Principal Cast : Gerard Butler, Mike Colter, Yoson An, Tony Goldwyn, Daniella Pineda, Paul Ben-Victor, Remi Adeleke, Joey Slotnick, Evan Dane Taylor, Claro De Los Reyes, Kelly Gale, Lilly Krug, Quinn McPherson.
Synopsis: A pilot finds himself caught in a war zone after he’s forced to land his commercial aircraft during a terrible storm.
One-time Spartan muscle-man and former Phantom of the Opera Gerard Butler has spent the best part of the last decade of more carving himself a sweet little career in respectably dumb – but almost entirely fun – action films almost in parallel to his fellow UK contemporary, Liam Neeson. When he’s not protecting the US President in the Has Fallen franchise, he can be spotted battling apocalyptic storms (Geostorm), asteroid strikes (Greenland), crime sprees (Den of Thieves and Copshop) and submarine warfare (Hunter Killer), while also giving voice to the How To Train Your Dragon franchise’s resident patriarch, Stoic. He more recently set out to locate his missing wife in 2022’s entertaining Last Seen Alive. Now, Butler takes on an army of Indonesian guerrilla fighters in Plane, directed by Frenchman Jean-Francois Richet, best known to Western audiences for helming the Assault on Precinct 13 remake in 2005, and Mel Gibson’s violently bloody Blood Father, in 2016. Plane plays things by the mid-budget book, a low-cost cast, extravagantly distant remote location, some more-or-less average visual effects, and Butler’s grizzled visage and low-frequency growls dominating this diverting and thoroughly engaging romp.
Butler plays Singapore-based commercial airline pilot Brodie Torrence, who saddles up with co-pilot Sam Dele (Yoson An) on a New Years Eve flight to Honololu via Tokyo, ostensibly to reunite with his daughter, with a clutch of passengers and one potential killer, Louis Gaspare (Mike Colter) being transported back Stateside. Not long after takeoff, the plane is stuck by a powerful storm, which takes out the craft’s power and one of its engines, forcing Brodie to force-land on a remote Indonesian island. Initially happy to have survived, the passengers are terrified when a group of local militia, led by the cruel Datu (Evan Dane Taylor) arrive to take them hostage; with the Indonesian government unwilling to help, the company behind the flight, Trailblazer Airlines, led by CEO Terry Hampton (Paul Ben-Victor) and search-and-rescue specialist Scarsdale (Tony Goldwyn) send in a group of highly skilled operatives to rescue the passengers, but not before Brodie and Louis have to risk their lives to help.
Plane is a by-the-numbers actioner that plays well for fans of Stallone’s 2008 Rambo, Jan de Bont’s Speed, Chuck Norris’ The Delta Force, and The Expendables franchise. This is pulp action at its finest; from the dull secondary characters whose names aren’t important, to the nonsensical command center a major commercial airline has that looks like a NASA launch sequence, to the mindless villains for whom motive and reason are secondary to pure violence, Plane is loud and stupid and commands the attention just long enough to entertain at a singularly base level. Gerard Butler sits atop this foghorn of casual racism and blistering tension with the masculine morality he’s become known for – Brodie Torrence is the capital-G Good capital-G Guy in this film and the script and direction make it abundantly clear that his fate here is never in doubt. He’s a warrior intent on getting back to his daughter, so you just know he’ll go through hell to get back to his daughter. The rest of the cast? Heh, you’ll never guess who survives and who does not, not that it matters. The script, by Charles Cumming and JP Davis, drizzles Butler’s casual charm and wit amid the consternation and anguish of international terror and triumphs, and had it been in the hands of a lesser director I would suggest the film might very well have ended up on the slag-heap of wannabe mid-tier actioners. Richet’s direction goes a long way to salvaging an escapist enjoyment here, with moments of bullet-strewn carnage and plenty of headshots as the razorwire narrative starts to tighten.
Butler is – as he always is – resolutely solid throughout. I half expected the film to imbue his character with some mystery past of special force skills or something, but in one huge surprise, he’s pretty much a generic everyman stuck in an unfortunate situation, although the plot does equip him with the far better skilled Mike Colter, as the mysterious French Foreign Legion soldier Gaspare, a possible killer more attuned to holding an automatic weapon than our erstwhile jet pilot. Colter and Butler have a great little chemistry, even if the film does fumble the ball with Gaspare’s backstory, and there’s no payoff whatsoever to this particular story beat by the end of the movie. If you’re going to have a mystery dude aboard a flight then you really ought to make sure that aspect comes to bear later in the film – it doesn’t. Yoson An is excellent as the flight’s co-pilot and tech-savvy leader, while it’s fun to spot Paul Ben-Victor, Joey Slotnick and Daniella Pineda in supporting roles, even if they are grossly underserviced. Tony Goldwyn as the film’s generic “eye in the sky” fixer of problems is fun as hell, but you get the sense he’s never really given the opportunity to flex his muscle, consigned to staring at screens and shouting into a telephone for the entire film.
Other than typical genre problems and characterisation, Plane’s biggest issue is its villains. It almost doesn’t quite know what to do with them. As Datu, Evan Dane Taylor seems to have a wild time as the vindictive, cruel and opportunistic leader of the island’s menacing guerrilla force population, and every time he’s on the screen the tension rises considerably. The trouble is, the film almost seems to want to paint both Datu and his crew as somehow sympathetic characters, jarringly at odds with their deadly antics in the film’s third act. It’s a tonal mismatch I found with the film, although when push comes to shove the literal army of Indo mercs assaulting Butler and his innocent passengers as they try to escape is laughably derisive, undercutting any real agency to be found. Watching several dozen nameless henchman be slaughtered in the name of entertainment is okay in small doses but Richet and his screenwriters facilitate an orgy of carnage and destruction, leaving it feeling less white-knuckle and more white-noise. That said, the action is plentiful and it is quite brutal – Datu meets his end in a particularly cathartic manner, not because the story demands it but because the screenwriters understand the audience they’re playing to – and Butler is again a commanding and entertaining hero to put through his paces.
Plane’s boilerplate script, join-the-dots plotting and stereotypical characterisations might threaten to underwhelm this film completely, were it not for the easygoing charm of Gerard Butler and director Jean-Francois Richet’s enigmatic and enthralling genre direction. Although encumbered by a limited budget for some of the more extravagant visual effects, once the film hits the ground it rarely lets up, offering a survivalist thriller that, while echoing other films in the genre, works brilliantly despite its many flaws and asks of the audience. Stretching credulity more than once, Plane is a real joyflight to savour. It’s large, loud, dumb fun and for that I can recommend it thoroughly.