Plane isn’t stupid enough. The title of this Gerard Butler action thriller, which should only be said with the monosyllabic matter-of-factness of a toddler at an airport, is so boneheaded that it craves chaotic genius in return. But Plane is stifled by just how ordinary it is, and how closely it hews to the standard tropes of action films with longer, more descriptive – yet less ridiculous – titles.
Here, Butler is parachuted into the exact kind of cheap, vaguely racist action flick that dominated the Eighties and Nineties. He plays Brodie Torrance, a commercial pilot heading up a New Year’s Eve flight from Singapore to Tokyo. It’s a budget airline. There are only 14 passengers onboard – plus, of course, a convicted criminal named Louis Gaspare (Mike Colter), who’s being transferred between prisons. The plane (just a normal plane, remember) is caught up in a violent storm that Brodie is ordered to fly through. A single lightning strike later, and Brodie is guiding the aircraft back down to Earth for an impromptu landing on what turns out to be a lawless island run by separatists and criminals.
The film’s by-the-numbers, macho mentality can be neatly summed up by the fact that when Brodie evacuates from the plane, director Jean-François Richet pointedly cuts away from his hero. You can’t risk emasculating your leading man by capturing him slipping down one of those big, inflatable slides now, can you? Louis is supposedly the more experienced and ruthless of the two men – he’s at one point caught by Brodie near-skipping out of the jungle after executing a captured separatist, and the guilty look he returns is somewhat close to that of a dog who’s just been found with his nose in the cookie jar. The ever-dependable Butler, one of the least self-conscious of today’s crop of action stars, gives Brodie just a touch of panicked witlessness in contrast.
But Brodie and Louis are conveniently both military veterans, so it doesn’t make all that much difference. Plane, in fact, sees such little separation between their characters that it only bothers to offer a proper conclusion to one of their storylines. What’s important is that they are men, with sweat-soaked shirts and suppressed trauma. There’s also one woman onboard, with Daniella Pineda’s stoic cabin crew member Bonnie being the character third-closest to having any discernible personality.
Beyond a cross-cut series of shots between a guy in a plane and a guy in a jeep caught in a vehicular Mexican standoff, there’s not much that’s genuinely fun about Plane. It exists in that tiresome world of just-about-believability, with none of the gung-ho spirit that stops you questioning how any of this would work. Maybe Butler should make something like “Truck” next time – see if he has better luck there.
Dir: Jean-François Richet. Starring: Gerard Butler, Mike Colter, Tony Goldwyn, Daniella Pineda, Paul Ben-Victor, Remi Adeleke. 15, 107 minutes.
‘Plane’ is in cinemas from 27 January
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