`Snakes on a Plane' never takes off

CRITICS' PICK

Critics' picks: New DVDs

December 31, 2006|By NICK MADIGAN

SNAKES ON A PLANE -- New Line Home Entertainment -- $28.95

The hilariously ludicrous Snakes on a Plane combines, as one might expect, two of humans' most common fears -- poisonous reptiles and flying -- and milks them for all they're worth.

Which is not much.

But Snakes manages to provide a remarkably varied roller coaster of slimy, repellent images of death by reptile, while attempting to engage its audience with a parade of cliche-driven personalities in peril.

There's the no-nonsense FBI agent, who is given to pronouncements like, "It's my job to handle life-and-death situations on a daily basis, and I'm good at it"; the careless, libidinous couple, too absorbed in their steamy mutual attraction to notice the venomous snake about to bite the woman's exposed breast; the ditzy Paris Hilton type, complete with very small dog; the arrogant celebrity rapper, forced into humility by the flight's descent into chaos; and several more.

Just as inevitably, the aircraft's two pilots are put out of commission, which prompts the question: How many times have we seen an airliner-in-distress movie in which the passengers are asked, "Can anyone here fly a plane?"

Nevertheless, Samuel L. Jackson provides an adequately reliable performance as one of two FBI agents entrusted with escorting a murder witness from Honolulu to Los Angeles for the trial of a gangster. It is the gangster, of course, who has loaded the plane with snakes in an effort to prevent the witness' testimony.

Rather than let the horror play out, director David R. Ellis (Final Destination 2, Cellular) loads the film with vacuous human dramas and flirtations, none so risible as that between Jackson's FBI agent and a flight attendant (Julianna Margulies), who conclude the ghastly voyage by blithely agreeing to a dinner date. Grinning like high-school kids, they act as though the carnage on the plane had never occurred.

Perhaps not surprisingly, the considerable Internet buzz that preceded the film's theatrical release in August did not translate into box-office gold. Snakes earned less than $60 million in worldwide ticket sales.

Special features

Extras include 10 deleted scenes, none revelatory; a gag reel that's only passingly amusing; a "Meet the Reptiles" sequence; and a "making-of" documentary, featuring interviews with Ellis, Jackson and some of the film's technical wizards, that ends up being far more interesting than anything in the movie.

ALSO ANTICIPATED

GLORY --Special Edition -- Sony Pictures -- $29.95

Glory, a Civil War drama that won Denzel Washington an Oscar for best supporting actor in 1989, centers on the first black regiment to fight for the North. Based partly on two books, Peter Burchard's One Gallant Rush and Lincoln Kirstein's Lay This Laurel, the film ably profiles the members of the 54th Regiment of Massachusetts helping to win freedom for their enslaved brethren in the South.

The film also stars Matthew Broderick as Robert Gould Shaw, the son of Boston abolitionists; Cary Elwes, who helps Shaw command the regiment; and Morgan Freeman, as an officer who inspires the soldiers. Glory was directed by Edward Zwick, who co-created the TV series thirtysomething and produced and directed the recent release Blood Diamond, starring Leonardo DiCaprio.

Special features

Commentary by Zwick, Freeman and Broderick; a featurette called "The True Story of Glory Continues"; deleted scenes; and text and photo galleries.

nick.madigan@baltsun.com

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