“Plane” is a too-generic title for what’s actually a pretty good little movie, combining with the ad campaign to convey a sense the film is more “Rambo”-like than it is. A crisply executed thriller likely never to be offered as in-flight entertainment, the bare-bones story falls mainly in the plain but is fueled by stars Gerard Butler and Mike Colter, thinly written though they may be.
“The Unluckiest Flight” would be a more descriptive title based on the way events unfold, as widowed pilot Brodie Torrance (Butler, adding another entry to his long action resume) flies a New Year’s Eve leg from Singapore to Tokyo, looking forward to meeting up in Hawaii with his daughter.
Alas, Torrance and his 14 passengers – a list that includes a prisoner, Louis Gaspare (“Luke Cage” and “Evil’s” Colter), being extradited to stand trial for murder – don’t reach their destination, as the plane gets struck by lightning, forcing Torrance and his copilot (Yoson An) to execute a harrowing emergency landing on a sparsely populated island. But wait, there’s more, as the island is home to heavily armed anti-government guerrillas looking to cash in on the hostages-to-be that have dropped from the sky into their laps.
At first wary about having Gaspare on board, Torrance brings him along as they venture out to seek help, which turns out to be fortuitous given the challenges they face after encountering the bad guys. While there’s not enough time to turn this into a buddy scenario, Butler (who also produced the film) and Colter have enough natural charisma and chemistry to help putty in those gaps, with an assist from memories of other similarly themed movies.
Working from a screenplay by Charles Cumming and J.P. Davis, French director Jean-François Richet (whose credits include the low-budget Mel Gibson thriller “Blood Father”) exhibits admirable restraint in portraying how the key figures react to this perilous situation. Torrance and Gaspare both have military backgrounds, but this isn’t the sort of instant-superhero fare the marketing would suggest.
With its spare running time, “Plane” also doesn’t bother much with details or subplots, other than Tony Goldwyn as a crisis expert at the airline’s headquarters (the Robert Stack role in “Airplane!” comes to mind) trying to find the wayward airliner and bring everyone home.
Granted, the overall exercise feels more efficient than inspired, but there’s something to be said for that sort of workmanlike ethic in an old-fashioned “B” movie fashion. Those attributes don’t necessarily merit rushing out to buy a ticket, but wherever and whenever one ends up boarding this flight, taken on its terms, it’s not a bad trip.
“Plane” premieres January 13 in US theaters. It’s rated R.