On the occasion of the first San Francisco screening of the most ridiculously hyped movie of 2006 (and, quite possibly, of all time -- sorry, George Lucas)...
We arrived at 9pm, an hour before showtime, and there was already a huge line snaking (ho, ho) its way through the Metreon lobby. The accessories of choice were, of course, snakes: rubber, plush, plastic, inflatable, what have you. There were also several Snakes on a Plane t-shirts of varying designs, and a few kids dressed like Pulp Fiction-era Samuel L. Jackson ("Do they speak Snakes in What?") Filmgoers who, for whatever reason, were en route to some other flick passed by and snickered to each other, giving rise to a perfectly legitimate question: what kind of fool goes to see Talladega Nights when the motherfucking snakes are finally in town?
After we grabbed seats in theater 13 -- aka "the big house" -- the hissing began. Not that usual, we-live-in-snarky-San-Francisco-so-we-hiss-at-the-movies hiss. This was distinctly reptilian. During the many previews (including one for Borat -- yeah!), the restless, sold-out crowd could barely contain itself. Impassioned cries of "SNAKES!!!" echoed from the rafters. Several seats over, a woman who'd been looking a little green since she sat down puked all over the floor. Yeah, it was that kind of night at the multiplex.
Finally, finally, the movie started. Holy fuck, our eyeballs were actually watching Snakes on a Plane! It takes about eight minutes to get to Jackson (rapturous applause and cheers). He's an FBI agent protecting a surfer who happened to see some incredibly cartoonish gangsters kill a prosecutor. Deadly serious dialogue: "I'm not worried about you if you do testify. I'm worried about you if you don't."
Fifteen minutes or so later, we're finally at the airport (hoots of joy). The stereotypes who climb aboard you-know-which plane include flight attendants (including Julianna Margulies, whose character is on her last tour of duty before she becomes a lawyer -- so we know she's gonna be the brains among the "sky candy"); a prissy princess with a chihuahua that might as well have "eat me" stamped on its forehead; a kickboxing champion; a honeymooning couple; a horny couple; a woman with a baby; a pair of little brothers traveling alone; an inexplicably germophobic hip hop star and his two-man entourage; and a fat lady. Since Agent Badass and his charge have taken over first class, all of the passengers must pile into coach. "Is it safe?" the prissy princess asks, worrying about mingling with hoi polloi. "NOOOOOOO!" screams the audience. "SNAKESSSSS!"
Amid all this pre-flight business, we're treated to some tantalizing shots of the cargo hold, which contains a certain container packed with serpants who're going unusually crazy. "You think I didn't exhaust every other option?" the head gangster asks an underling from within his lair, anticipating the painful befuddlement our logic-obsessed minds feel while contemplating the practicality of a snakes-on-a-plane assassination scenario. Making a nest of vipers and other things even worse, the gangster arranges for the airline's farewell leis to be sprayed with -- well, apparently some kind of pheromone designed to elicit the venomous-snake equivalent of the Axe Effect.
"Guess who's on the plane?" Margulies askes the two little boys, thinking that they may want to meet the hip hop star, whose hit song is the wondrously titled "Booty Go Thump".
"SNAKESSSSSSS!" answers the crowd in delighted unison. Of course.
Okay, so at long motherfucking last, the countdown clock on the snake crate clicks to 0:00. Why is there a countdown clock? Because there is. Don't fight it. Unbridled hysteria grips the crowd. Small plastic snakes are flung throughout the auditorium as three important pieces of information are revealed: first, snakes unleashed in a cargo hold will immediately fuck up the aircraft's avionics, raising the peril factor from just snakes on a plane to snakes on a plane with the potential for catastrophic mechanical failure (naturally, there's also a storm brewing in the night sky). Second, snakes see in what we immediately termed "snake-o-vision," which is neon green and laced with LSD trails. Third, and most importantly, if a snake happens upon a couple joining the Mile High Club, it will clamp down on the most R-rated body part it can find.
Before long, all hell breaks loose, and the next 30 minutes or so represent exactly the kind of insanity you want to see in a movie called, well, Snakes on a Plane. Shit basically goes fucking ape. Snakes in the toilet bowl! Snakes on a crotch! Snakes in a barf bag! Snakes in the oxygen masks! Snakes in the microwave! Snakes on the receiving end of Sam Jackson's motherfucking taser! Extreme close-up shots of CG snakes looking for someone, anyone, to bite! The baby, MY GOD THE BABY! Aaaaaghhhhh! Amid all this, my movie buddy leans over with some concern: "How long can they sustain this?" (Meanwhile, the total stranger seated on my other side keeps jabbing my arm with unfettered bliss, howling "THIS IS THE GREATEST MOVIE I HAVE EVER SEEN!" at the top of his lungs). It's 20 or so minutes of utter insanity in a movie theater, the likes of which I will probably never, ever, ever experience again.
The rest of the movie downshifts a bit, but it never loses its ridiculous charm. For every bite that gets the poison sucked out of it (insert dirty joke here -- why not, the movie does), there are a dozen bloated, venom-infested corpses left lolling in their seats. For every asinine line of dialogue ("We have to put a barrier between us and the snakes!" "Out of the way, grandma!" "Get this fuckin' snake off my ass!" "Sporks??") there's a close-up of a snake body slithering past the camera. For every calm moment, there's a loving close-up of a snake plunging its fangs into some poor SOB's eye socket. Pretty much every kind of death-by-snake you wanna see, including one involving an enormous python and the biggest jackass among the passengers, is accounted for. Oh, and in the grand tradition of Jurassic Park, Sam Jackson must venture into reptile-infested territory and, like, re-set the breaker that's controlling the plane's air flow. Ever notice how cables on plane look an awful lot like snakes?
Meanwhile, the movie occasionally -- very occasionally -- checks out what's going on with Jackson's FBI compadres on the ground in Los Angeles. Naturally, a "hardcore snake specialist" must be rustled up; the trailer-dwelling black-market snake dealer (I'd rather live next door to a meth lab) must be hunted down and punished. Who cares, dude? Get back to the freakin' snakes!
Suffice to say, there's also a little bit of Airplane! going on here, especially during the dramatic landing scene. And by "dramatic," I don't mean story-wise -- I mean Jackson's incredible reaction shots when he settles into the cockpit. Just priceless. The most famous line, which I won't even repeat here, comes near the very end of the movie, and it's worth it. The whole thing is worth it, really. Fuck the backlash. Fuck the haters. Snakes rules! Just don't be waiting for video, because this is premium B-movie poop. The experience is only worth it if you see it with an audience as assed-out on snake pheromones as you are. (The lame-o Cobra Starship video over the end credits, though, is beyond all comprehension.)
What with all of the real-life airplane terror going on these days -- a bottle of shampoo can be as scary as an albino monocled cobra, apparently -- it makes perfect sense for Snakes on a Plane to be appearing now, instead of back in the 1970s disaster-movie heyday. This spring's Poseidon sank because nobody gives two shits about a bunch of losers on a cruise ship, especially in a movie that takes itself a little too seriously. Clearly the future of the disaster film has been delineated in the past few weeks. The utterly earnest World Trade Center sponges its drama off the same real-life tragedy that helps infuse Snakes on a Plane -- no matter how silly of a flick it is -- with its oddly current brand of in-flight urgency. It could be that there's no middle ground anymore: post-9/11 disaster movies can either go totally serious, or totally stupid. Gloriously, gleefully, motherfuckingly, snake-infested-ly stupid.