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Plane review: Gerard Butler and Mike Colter fly the unfriendly skies

This film about a passenger jet that makes an emergency landing on a remote, hostile island is as plain as its title

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 Gerard Butler and Mike Colter in Plane
Gerard Butler and Mike Colter in Plane
Photo: Lionsgate

Deep thinkers from William Shakespeare to Samantha Fox have wondered “what’s in a name?” The producers of Plane have discovered that, if nothing else, the right title of a January action picture starring Gerard Butler can at least get people yapping on Twitter. Why is calling a movie Plane so funny? Keanu Reeves and Sandra Bullock wisely did not star in Bus. Is it the lack of a definite article? In 1964, director John Frankenheimer and star Burt Lancaster collaborated to make The Train and it remains a classic. Or could it be that Plane is just so … plain? Picture all the action movies, laid out like Chobani yogurt, and instead of mixing Clingstone Peach or Monterey Strawberry with your granola, you’re sticking with plain. Naming a movie Plane is funny. That’s all there is.

Anyway, Plane begins in an airport with Gerard Butler as Captain Something-or-other, belching exposition into his telephone (he loves his daughter, he wishes he was a better father since, well, something deeply traumatic happened) and promising that, “there won’t be any delays.” Guess what? There are going to be delays! That’s because our hero is flying for a rinky-dink airline on New Year’s Eve. There are very few passengers, so even though the Singapore to Tokyo trip has some dangerous weather, the bean-counter dispatcher won’t approve a re-route. Not worth the fuel costs! As such, Butler and his co-pilot (the charming Yoson An) are directed to pierce the South China Sea’s most dark and unfriendly skies. Their aircraft is struck by lightning, comms go down, and it’s looking like curtains for all.

But Gerard Butler is the best there is and he manages to get everyone to safety. Well, everyone who kept their seatbelt on. But once the plane is down, there’s a new set of issues. For starters, they’re in the middle of nowhere and unable to call for help in an area too vast to assume a typical rescue operation will find them. Also, one of the passengers (Mike Colter of Luke Cage) is a handcuffed convicted killer being extradited from Singapore to Toronto; if you’re sensing that he’s going to turn out to be a hero, your instincts are good. (This fella, Louis Gaspare, served for years in the French Foreign Legion. That means he’s basically the French Rambo, and calls Gerard Butler Capitaine.) But wait, there’s more! They aren’t just stranded in the middle of nowhere with a killer—they’re on a lawless island overrun by Filipino separatists. The government has basically abandoned the place, and if those nasty separatists aren’t above taking missionaries hostage for ransom, just what will they do with a plane full of rich North Americans and Europeans?

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Such troubles! Luckily Gerard Butler, the working-class action hero, has killer instincts that his new buddy Colter quickly cultivates, and soon they’re knifing and sledge-hammering and doing Chuck Norris-style damage to all the baddies. And happily for everyone who buys a ticket to a movie called Plane hoping to see a lot of badassery on a plane, things do head skyward again. Indeed, the lead villain will eventually find himself kicked in the face by the titular plane. This is not a joke.

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Periodically the action switches back to the airline’s headquarters, a cheesy 1980s-looking obsidian star chamber in a Manhattan skyscraper. Why a cheapo airline servicing Asian countries would have such offices is not explained, but luckily the CEO is played with weary “I shoulda stayed in bed” energy by well-traveled character actor Paul Ben-Victor. He calls in a cleaner named Scarsdale, played by Tony Goldwyn, who hunches over a speaker phone and barks lines like “the Philippines are not the Amalfi Coast!” Goldwyn does performers like Michael Ironside and Lance Henriksen proud in this, their shared tradition.

Is Plane good? Well, keeping in mind that critics don’t pay to see movies, yeah, sure, Plane is good. There’s a part where one guy fires a gun so powerful it blows a hole through an SUV and kills a guy on the other side. Also, viewers will learn how to say “chief” in Tagalog. (It’s “Datu.”) And, kidding aside, the plane crash sequence—which has some length to it—is tense and well-cut together. If you buy a ticket for this one, just know there’s no First Class option. But with moderate expectations, you’ll still get to your destination.