Sean Jones (Nathan Phillips) is riding his motorcycle through the countryside of Hawaii when he stops for some refreshment, only to be startled by someone dangling upside down from an overhead bridge. This man is the district attorney who is attempting to bring down a crime lord, and as Sean retires to a hiding place he is shocked to see the crime lord appear with his men and a baseball bat and the district attorney is beaten to death. He then speeds off on his bike, with the gangsters' bullets zipping by his ears and back home he watches the television news on the case while wondering what to do. As this happens, he hears the lock to his front door being picked and makes for the patio windows in a panic - but someone is waiting for him. He is F.B.I. Agent Flynn (Samuel L. Jackson) and he's here to save the witness... but what happens when he gets Sean on a plane to Los Angeles no one could predict.
There are a few films that become cult movies before they're even released, and Snakes on a Plane was one of them thanks to interest in what we're led to believe is the studios' favourite marketing tool, the Internet. Such was the buzz that "fans" were posing their own ideas for what should happen in it, including dialogue that did indeed end up in the finished film. Or should I say re-finished, as the opus was subjected to reshoots to make it more extreme, with more bloodthirsty reptile attacks and stronger language, all to cash in on the star's badass image that was anticipated. So it was that Jackson (who rumour had it, endearingly, only signed on because he liked the plain-speaking title and urged the producers not to change it) played up this tough guy persona in a story that was pretty much a gimmicky reworking of the old nineteen-seventies Airport series.
Unlike with those earlier disaster movies, a star-studded cast was not assembled for this flight into terror, but once we reach the airport a sense of camp takes over as the potential victims are introduced. There's the big name music star (Flex Alexander) with his two bodyguards (Kenan Thompson in particular stands out as being highly entertaining), a would-be Paris Hilton (Rachel Blanchard) with a camera phone and a tiny, yappy dog and various others, from nervous flyers to obnoxious ones who are unhappy that first class has been comandeered by Flynn and his charge. Incidentally, Lin Shaye gives Airport '77 a run for its money in the film featuring the oldest working stewardess stakes. As this is an overnight flight the plane is not as packed as it might be, or that's the excuse in the script at any rate, but there are enough passengers for the running around and screaming that arrives later.
Considering that Jackson was the main draw for many of the potential audience, he's not really given much to do for a lot of the time, in fact, for the half hour or so up until the first attack, he's hardly in it. The snakes of the title are smuggled on board and the garlands of flowers the passengers wear (there's loads of them in the cargo hold too) are sprayed with pheromones to drive the reptiles crazy. So when the crate with the slithery menaces is opened with a time lock, all hell breaks loose and people are being bitten left, right and centre, including one of the pilots. It's here where the obvious reshoots are crowbarred in, with more gore and moments to prompt winces, and of course the swearing, although you have to wait until the end to hear the most celebrated line. All this is quite good fun in an indulgent, trashy kind of way, nothing taxing but not taking itself too seriously - if it did, it would stray into "so bad it's good" territory, or maybe simply bad. The whole film could be aptly prefaced with the phrase: "Wouldn't it be cool if...?" Music by Trevor Rabin.