Salty Air

‘Plane’: Fun flight through unfriendly skies — Play It Again, Tim

Gerard Butler, left, and Mike Colter appear in a scene from “Plane.” (Lions Gate)
Written by Tim Miller

I have to admit, I didn’t have high expectations for the Gerard Butler action flick “Plane.”

I mean, “Plane”? How generic can you get? Why not “Movie”?

With that little effort going into the title, how could this film possibly be any good?

So it comes as a nice surprise that “Plane” (R, 107 minutes, in theaters) is so entertaining. No, it’s not about to win any awards for great artistry. As plots go, it’s routine. But even when you know where it’s going, more or less, it still offers excitement. It still keeps you on edge. It’s … fun.

Butler plays Brodie Torrence, a Scottish commercial-airline pilot. In the film, Torrence flies his plane from one destination to another, and everything goes fine, and everyone finds their luggage and gets home safe. The end.

Yeah, that doesn’t happen. But you knew that.

Gerard Butler, left, and Mike Colter appear in a scene from “Plane.” (Lions Gate)

Gerard Butler, left, and Mike Colter appear in a scene from “Plane.” (Lions Gate)

Before Torrence takes off on his latest flight, he learns that he’s about to fly into a bad storm. A weasel of an airline official says it’s no big deal and gives the go-ahead. So off Torrence goes. The storm is as originally advertised, lightning strikes (literally), and the captain crash-lands the plane on a small island somewhere in the South China Sea.

Did I mention there’s an accused murderer among the passengers? His name is Louis Gaspare (Mike Colter).

His presence poses one potential problem. The other: The island is under the control of a vicious militia that doesn’t treat foreigners in a particularly friendly manner.

Will Torrence and the other crash survivors manage to stay alive until they can be found and saved? Experienced moviegoers might guess that at least some will. But who? And, how?

Passive resistance isn’t a big part of the game plan. Torrence and Gaspare (Is he a good guy or a bad guy?) have to come up with their own violent methods, some rather extreme (two-word hint: sledgehammer, heads).

“Plane” isn’t merely some cement-headed killfest, however. Without overdoing it, Butler plays Torrence with a little more depth than you might find in the typical action hero. Torrence actually struggles with slaying another human being – even the cardboard villain variety – though (and this might be one of the film’s points) it does get easier as he’s forced to kill and kill again.

For him, it’s a matter of priorities and responsibility: As the captain of the flight, it’s his obligation to get his crew and passengers to their destination as safely as humanly possible. He takes this seriously, and it determines every decision he makes. When it comes down to it, he figures, you do what you’ve got to do.

That’s not to suggest we’re in Eugene O’Neill territory here. The rest of the characters are flat, and more in keeping with the genre. But that’s OK: This is a lean, unpretentious action flick made by a director (Jean-Francois Richet) who knows how to make you hold your breath even when you’re expecting, say, a plane to lose control or a timely bullet to zip through the head of a baddie.

The film did leave me pondering one mystery: How on earth do the flight attendants keep their uniforms so clean throughout the ordeal? So impressive. *** (out of four)

** Click here for  Tim Miller’s previous movie columns for Cape Cod Wave **

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Tim Miller

Tim Miller

Tim Miller is co-president of the Boston Society of Film Critics. He teaches film and journalism at Cape Cod Community College in West Barnstable. You can contact Tim at [email protected] or follow him onTwitter @TimMillerCritic. Or you can ignore him completely.

About the author

Tim Miller

Tim Miller, a member of the Boston Society of Film Critics, was the Cape Cod Times film critic for nearly 36 years. A Detroit native (and hardcore Tigers fan), he’s been obsessed with movies since skipping school in 1962 to see “Lawrence of Arabia” with his parents when he was 7. Miller earned his bachelor’s degree from the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor and his master’s from Suffolk University, where he taught film and journalism for 10 years. He continues to teach film at Curry College and Cape Cod Community College. He is a juror each year for the short-film competition of the Martha’s Vineyard International Film Festival, has moderated several panel discussions at the Woods Hole Film Festival and frequently is heard as a guest on Cape & Islands NPR station WCAI. His work appeared as a chapter in the book “John Sayles: Interviews.” His favorite movie is Cameron Crowe's “Almost Famous” – because it makes him feel good to be alive.

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