With a title as generic as Plane, I wouldn’t blame some people out there for thinking this has to be one of those run-of-the-mill, bargain-basement action movies capitalizing on the go-to tough-guy action hero Gerard Butler. The Scottish actor, of course, isn’t synonymous with words that rhymed with ‘quality’ and ‘consistency’. But he did act in some watchable genre movies like 300 (2007), Olympus Has Fallen (2013) as Den of Thieves, and Hunter Killer (both released in 2018), just to name a few.
Well, thankfully, Plane belongs to the latter: a watchable action movie that Butler still exudes the same rugged charm even at 53 years of age. He plays Captain Brodie Torrance, a commercial airline pilot of Trailblazer Flight 119, where we first learn he is looking forward to reuniting with his daughter, Daniela (Haleigh Hekking) in Hawaii.
Of course, if you are familiar with this kind of action movie, you know things don’t go as smoothly as planned. It all started with him flying the plane on New Year’s Eve from Singapore to Tokyo and among the few passengers onboard include Louis Gaspare (Mike Colter). A convicted murderer who is being extradited to the said destination. Louis is the least problem here when Brodie and his co-pilot, Samuel Dele (Yoson An) subsequently find themselves dealing with a storm in mid-air after the take-off. Lightning strikes, causing the plane to malfunction but they manage to make an emergency landing somewhere on an island in the Philippines.
But just when they thought they have overcome the near-death situation, another danger takes place: A group of anti-government militias led by Datu (meaning “chief”) Junmar (Evan Dane Taylor) ends up kidnapping the passengers and holding them hostage. Leaving Brodie with no choice but to team up with Louis to save the day.
Don’t expect anything new here since Plane is more of a throwback to the ’90s era of Hollywood action movies that used to be a big deal back in the day. Kudos to Jean-François Richet, the French director who previously helmed the Assault on Precinct 13 remake and the Mel Gibson-starred Blood Father, for keeping the pace reasonably brisk throughout its 107-minute runtime. He stages some effective thrills here, notably the opening scene of the mid-air turbulence and the climactic plane-related moment in the final third act. Special effects are surprisingly adequate even with the moderate $50 million budget at his disposal. It made me wonder what he could have achieved more if he’s being granted a bigger, blockbuster-sized budget.
Then, there’s the first fight scene that I didn’t expect to see here. I mean, as in the way Jean-François Richet chose to shoot the particular scene in an impressive single take, where we see Butler’s Brodie fighting against one of the anti-government militias’ soldiers in an abandoned building (this scene alone reportedly took more than six takes just to get it right). It was a well-choreographed fight scene that successfully captured the raw and gritty feel of a one-on-one brawl.
Plane also benefits from a better-than-expected cast, beginning with Butler’s no-nonsense and stoic leading turn as Captain Brodie Torrance. His brawny presence isn’t the only advantage that Butler has. He even pulls off a believable role of an airline pilot maintaining his selfless professionalism and always calm under pressure no matter how dire the situation he’s in. And that includes everything from trying to land the plane safely amidst the storm-causing power failure to ensuring the safety of his passengers while overcoming the militia threat as humanly as possible. Personally, I’m glad that Butler’s Brodie doesn’t end up like an indestructible over-the-top action hero.
Mike Colter is equally charismatic as Louis Gaspare, where both he and Butler shared decent chemistry as an unlikely duo working together as a team. The rest of the supporting cast including Evan Dane Taylor and Tony Goldwyn deliver adequate support in their respective roles as the fearsome militia leader Junmar and the Trailblazer’s crisis manager, Scarsdale.
As much as I enjoy Plane, the movie could have been better, especially during the midsection. Between the aforementioned single-take brawl and the thrilling third-act finale, the action sequences are mostly shot in a jittery close-up. The subsequent gunfights somehow lack the visceral punch even with all the jumpy camerawork meant to evoke the chaotic feeling of reality like you are in the middle of the action.
Plane is far from a great action movie but it’s enjoyable enough for what it is. It’s hardly tedious, thanks to the overall cast led by Gerard Butler, Mike Colter, and Evan Dane Taylor while it contains a few well-staged action set pieces. There’s nothing political about this movie either, despite Charles Cumming and J.P. Davis’s screenplay for including the anti-government militias as antagonists. It was a refreshing change of pace and decent enough for a cinematic two-hour diversion that clearly wants you to just sit back and enjoy the ride.