After witnessing a gang-related murder, Sean Jones (Nathan Phillips) is escorted by commercial jet (by an apparently cash-strapped FBI) to testify against gang boss Eddie Kim (Byron Lawson). But Kim hatches a foolproof plan to assassinate the witness: bring down the plane by releasing hundreds of deadly snakes, the terrorists of the jungle.
Kim is not the only one who fails to account for the presence of FBI agent Samuel L. Jackson. The budget stretches no further than Sam’s salary, creating scarcities of convincing CGI and acting talent. And though Taylor Kitsch (in a curious non-speaking role) bites the dust before the peanuts are served, his name sets the tone for the duration of the flight. Kitsch that is. There was no tailoring, judging by Jackson’s repurposing of the leather jacket he wore in Shaft. That they even appear to be on a plane is something of a surprise for a film so cheap it makes Michael O’Leary look like Richard Branson.
One thing to be said for Snakes on a Plane is it knows what it is. Where the creature attack genre has a tendency to either take itself too seriously (Crawl) or go too far in the other annoying, tacky direction (Deep Blue Sea), this entry is knowing, funny and entertaining (especially if you’re legless). The gags come as thick and fast as the reptiles, for instance when a flight attendant puts a snake in a microwave he pushes the button with a snake on it. This attention to comic detail is not extended to the characters or effects, and the song at the end (“Snakes on a Plane (Bring It)”) should have been shed at the earliest opportunity.
Much has been written about the internet fandom’s influence on the finished product (we have them to thank for Jackson’s infamous line, “I have had it with these motherfucking snakes on this motherfucking plane!”), which ultimately constricted its appeal to a bunch of nerds who probably pirated it anyway. Jackson famously insisted the film keep its descriptive title (though Ana-Con-Air would have worked too), arguing: “People either want to see this movie or they don’t, so let ’em know.” It turns out they didn’t and the movie barely broke even. But that’s not necessarily because Snakes on a Plane is bad. It is, but it could have been b-adder.