Movie Review: Gerard Butler & Co. keep it “Plane” and Simple

That Gerard Butler has more movie career lives than a damned cat.

Every time you figure “It’s time to pack your bags for the C-movie express,” Gerry B. shows up in a dumb thriller that somehow “plays.” He buys in, and we buy in — up to a point. And somehow, the thrilling edges out the silly and Paisley, Scotland’s finest brings that clumsy beast home.

“Plane” is almost as plain as its title. It has ludicrous plot points, comically-contrived back story elements, Milan runway-ready womenfolk and villains who are just “The Other” — Filipino separatists who don’t really have a point of view save for “Let’s take some hostages, and shoot as many as we don’t need.”

Directed by the Frenchman who gave us the criminal career of “Mesrine” on the screen, “Plane” is the quintessence of “a really dumb movie that plays.”

Butler’s Capt. Brodie Torrance, a TrailBlazer Airlines pilot were a nearly empty and “old” (per the college girl passengers) 727 to fly from Singapore to Tokyo and on to Honolulu just in time for New Year’s.

Widowed, with a college student daughter (Haleigh Hekking) waiting for him in Hawaii, he’s rushed — no time to shave — and ready to get this show on the road.

A storm changes all that, and in the film’s harrowing first act, we see a more or less by-the-book response to a lightning strike forced landing from high altitude. Capt. Torrance and Hong Kong native co-pilot Dele (Yoson An) somehow get the plane low enough to spy an island, stumble across a road, and land that rear-engined beast by the stubble of Torrance’s chinny chin chin.

That’s when the trouble really begins. They don’t know where they are. Their airline back in New York doesn’t either. This corner of the vast Philippine Archipelago is under the control of “gangsters, thugs, separatists.” And the guard escorting a murder suspect (Mike Colter) to Toronto for trial was one of those killed in their encounter with the storm.

There’s nothing for it but for the captain to take the guard’s gun, and the walking-muscle of a suspect, and hike out to look for help.

I know, right?

Of course our pilot has some “background” that will pay dividends in this scenario. Of course our suspect has “special skills.” And no, the script does damned little to create suspicion and wariness between the two men. They’re chummy, almost straight off.

Because “Plane’s” got bigger fish to fry.

The violence in “Plane” is sudden, shocking and damned personal, as director Jean-François Richet keeps his camera tight and hand-held on the hand-to-hand combat sequences, and he stages the shootouts on a “unruly mob vs. professionals” level.

Butler has perhaps his best onscreen brawl-to-the-death since “300.” Colter (TV’s “Luke Cage”)? Look at him. What goon with a gun would have a prayer against him?

The “professionals” here are the “private assets” (mercenaries) commissioned by the airline’s freelance crisis manager (Tony Goldwyn) to extract these stranded travelers from the clutches of Southwest the separatists.

That’s a whole different point of view in the film, “crisis managing” a lost airplane, with the airline’s chief (Paul Ben-Victor) at odds with fellow who manages — in a PR and search and rescue sense — such disasters for a living. Not making Goldwyn’s character a cynical heavy in all this is a bit surprising.

“Plane” is, in many ways, a classic January or August film, a movie destined for a low-attendance dumping-ground month on the movie release calendar. But every January or August produces an overperformer or two, dumb genre movies that defy lowered-expectations and connect with audiences.

And even though we already have one of those this January — “M3GAN” — and even though Butler’s fanbase has aged into its nickname (“GerryAtrics”), he’s got another visceral, involving action pic that’s not great, but works well enough to make us forget “Last Seen Alive” and his last few flops, if only for the month of January.

Rating: R, violence, profanity

Cast: Gerard Butler, Mike Colter, Daniella Pineda, Yoson An, Evan Dane Taylor, Remi Adeleke, Paul Ben-Victor and Tony Goldwyn

Credits: Directed by Jean-François Richet, scripted by Charles Cumming and J.P. Davis. A Lionsgate release.

Running time: 1:47

About Roger Moore

Movie Critic, formerly with McClatchy-Tribune News Service, Orlando Sentinel, published in Spin Magazine, The World and now published here, Orlando Magazine, Autoweek Magazine
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