I do not expect the American Film Institute to offer its Lifetime Achievement Award to Gerard Butler anytime soon. Then again to be fair, it did present one to George Clooney, whose cinematic output makes me genuinely wonder what he's done to receive such lofty recognition. Yet, I digress.
Plane is fully aware of what it is. It is a film where Butler saves people. It takes its premise, if not seriously, at least without winking at its audiences and attempting to be goofy.
On New Year's Eve, a Trailblazer flight carrying originally 14 passengers attempts to fly from Singapore to Tokyo despite a storm. Captain Brodie Torrence (Butler) is not particularly worried, given his years of experience as both a civilian and military pilot. He is more concerned about the two new last-minute passengers: Louis Gaspare (Mike Colter) and Officer Knight (Otis Winston). Gaspare is a convicted murderer on the lam who has just been captured and being repatriated. This was the only available flight, so off they go.
The storm they were ordered to fly over still causes the flight issues, whereupon Captain Brodie and his greenhorn copilot Sammy Dele (Yoson An) still manage to land on a remote island. They find that they are on Jolo island in the Philippines. The hope of rescue fades quickly as Jolo is held by separatist who profit off hostages, hostages whom they kill if the ransom is not paid out. Brodie and Gaspare sometimes join forces, sometimes not, to save the passengers and stewardesses.
They are aided by mercenaries brought in by Scarsdale (Tony Goldwyn), a fixer Trailblazer Airlines has brought in to help in this crisis. As Scarsdale and the Trailblazer board look on from New York, Brodie and Gaspare fight on, though not all survive.
I freely admit that I have enjoyed the Has Fallen series that Bulter has managed to transform into a franchise. I find many of his films to be good fun, not intelligent but entertaining, filled with sometimes over-the-top action but never skimping on said action. Plane is fully aware of itself, putting in so many cliches that it might as well have taken them from a playbook.
There's the daughter Torrence has to get to. There's the reluctant man of action who has to team up with a seemingly menacing figure. There is the disparate group of passengers that get little in way of personality. We even have villains who have little in way of personality.
With all that, Plane never bothers to be anything other than what its viewers want it to be: a fast-flowing story that gives us simple characters, lots of gunplay and a film that runs quickly.
Something like Plane is now old hat to Butler, who at 53 still manages to be a credible action star. He hits the necessary beats that the script gives him. He even manages to make his Scottish accent part of the plot.
As a side note, has Gerard Bulter ever made a film where his brogue hasn't managed to either pop up or identified his character's origin?
Something like Plane does not bother to go beyond a few basic bits when it comes to the other characters. You have the Instagram girls, the obnoxious passenger, the competent head stewardess. It gives us little bits to get us somewhat invested (such as how Dele has a young family) but apart from that I do not think we need to learn or know much about them. Midway through the film, we see a video of missionaries making their hostage video. We also see a wall splattered in blood. Plane trusts us to put two and two together.
There is an element in Plane that I do not think enough people have commented on. Brodie Torrence is by no means a superhero. Here, Torrence is injured, tired, at times confused. It is nice to have characters that at least have vulnerability, who are not indestructible. Granted, the daughter element seems attached, but one rolls with it.
I think Colter gets the short end of the stick, as Gaspare is presented as both hero and heel. He appears and disappears almost at random, with little to understand his motivations. The plot point about Scarsdale and his mercenaries seems too like an easy way out of situations. I do not know if such a figure as the shadowy Scarsdale could be available to airlines to hire or rent whenever they needed hostages rescued.
One part that I did find amusing was in how one of the passengers, who despite being on an isolated island still managed to get good internet service livestreamed his plight. When questioned on it, he replied "You know what they say, no video, it didn't happen". That is similar to what I say in jest, "If it's not on YouTube, it never happened".
There are parts of Plane that did make me think things were a little peculiar. When, for example, Brodie manages to get hold of Trailblazer Airlines, he's asked for his badge number. He tells them that he left it on the plane, but I wondered how he after years with the company still did not know his badge number. Some of the angles that director Jean-Francois Richet opted for with the fights seemed odd. I will also add that at times, there seemed to be a bit of lethargy to things. From the airplane descent to the mercenary rescue, at times the cast and crew seemed to know it was not urgent.
Is that a bit of a nitpick? Perhaps. On the whole though, I found Plane to be smart enough to know what it was and to give audiences a good time. If I enjoy a film for meeting my expectations, I cannot fault it for that.