Film Review: Plane embraces genre simplicity and delivers on B-grade popcorn thrills

With Gerard Butler‘s name attached, and the most simplistic of titles on hand, you’d be right in thinking such a film as Plane is going to deliver on the bare minimum; It’ll be big, loud, non-sensical, heavy on testosterone and light on narrative.

And whilst aspect of those expectations aren’t far off the mark, Jean-François Richet‘s actioner manages to go beyond a plane-in-peril mentality, injecting genuine thrills and intelligence into proceedings without entirely resorting to a wink-wink type of genre piece that can often feel more laughable than lived-in.  Now, Plane is still an action escape at the end of the day, and Butler’s resourceful pilot speaks to the convenience of the genre, but it never talks down to its audience in its attempt to entertain.

Before Butler’s pilot, Brodie Torrance, puts his acquired combat skills to good use, his intention is to fly a select group of passengers from Singapore to Hawaii on a largely-sparse New Year’s Eve flight.  He’s hoping to get ring in the new year with his daughter – this plot device ultimately proving a waste of sentimentality – and, due to his confidence, he assures co-pilot Dele (Yoson An) that the incoming storm will only prove a minor complication to their intended flight path.

Now, we all know that said storm will cause more of a disturbance than the characters on board would like, but the Charles Cumming/J.P. Davis-penned script adds an additional layer of danger in Mike Colter‘s Louis Gaspare, a convicted murderer looking at a 15-year sentence.  His gruff, handcuffed frame sits towards the back of the plane, flagged by federal marshals who assure Torrance and the other passengers on board that the flight will remain uneventful.  Oh, if only that were true.

Struck during the storm, Torrance’s aircraft goes down, but our resourceful pilot manages to stick an improbable landing, sparing everyone on board, bar the federal and flight crew casualties who fall victim to turbulence during the descent itself.  With no transponder and minimal food, Torrance takes charge of those on the ground to keep them from not only succumbing to the elements, but their own animal instincts.  Gaspare’s presence doesn’t ease the tension, but when it comes to light that they have landed on a small island in the Philippines that happens to be lawless by nature, their biggest threat becomes one of their strongest allies.

What easily could have been another terrorist-boards-commercial-airliner thriller, Plane surprisingly opts out of predominant mid-air fright and settles for action on the ground.  There’s been some criticism aimed at the film over its depiction of the Philippines and, specifically, the region run by separatists and militia, and, yes, Richet’s film isn’t exactly subtle on how it paints its terrorist-minded archetypes, but – as reaffirmed by the Director’s Guild of the Philippines – it’s all a little too B-graded and framed in such an entertainment-minded fashion that it’s difficult for any offense to truly be taken.

Further leaning into Plane‘s B-movie temperament, and providing a nice offset to the action, are the sequences devoted to the airline’s headquarters where a crisis team has been assembled as to how they can get ahead of the potential tragedy they’ll need to report on, should Torrance and his cohorts not make it back home safely.  Tony Goldwyn‘s Scarsdale is leading the charge, and he’s effortlessly stern and all-too eager to put everyone there in their place.  He’s ready to utilise brutal, extreme methods if necessary, and his ordering of a Black Ops team to rescue Torrance and co. is spectacularly ludicrous and just the personality jolt the film needs to move its action forward.

Mostly avoiding any forced emotional trappings, Plane embraces the silliness of its simplistic title and manages to blend the occasional trope of implausible action with characters that adhere to their stereotypical descriptions, without making a mockery of such.  This is pure popcorn entertainment that delivers on nasty-minded action and heroic temperaments that won’t insult your brain cells when you opt to cheer on the unfolding physicality.


Plane is streaming on Prime Video from Friday, May 19th, 2023.

Peter Gray

Film critic with a penchant for Dwayne Johnson, Jason Momoa, Michelle Pfeiffer and horror movies, harbouring the desire to be a face of entertainment news.