Cinematic Releases: Plane (2023) - Reviewed

Courtesy of Lionsgate
It’s that time of year: the January dumping ground month, where studios tend to empty out their B-movie contents laying dormant in their vaults.  Movies that get shelved for years for whatever reason or another often creep out into theatrical release in January as a way of studios absolving themselves of the movie.  Sometimes they make money but usually not.  The latest example is a curious case of Hollywood hot potato playing further complicated by the COVID-19 pandemic, the Gerard Butler produced and starring actioner Plane. 
Announced as far back as 2016 followed by Lionsgate’s acquisition of the rights in 2019, the studio dropped the project amid the outbreak and sold it to Solstice Studios, only to turn around in 2021 to buy them back.  Turning out to be a big budget action film set at $50 million, the film went into production and is set to release tomorrow.  If you’ve seen one Gerard Butler one-man-army action survival thrillers, you’ve seen them all but in the hands of French crime film director Jean-Fran├žois Richet best known for his Mesrine series and the Mel Gibson thriller Blood Father, it winds up being a halfway decent way to kill two hours.
Commercial air pilot Brodie Torrance (Gerard Butler) takes off with a flight of fourteen passengers including a convicted prisoner named Louis (Mike Coulter) when a violent thunderstorm damages the aircraft forcing him to make an emergency crash landing on a nearby island to save the passengers.  Upon landing however he quickly learns he’s in Jolo, an island of the Philippines ruled by dangerous anti-government militia who quickly threaten the safety of the surviving passengers.  Cut off with no means of contact to the outside world while a hasty rescue operation is underway, he reluctantly enlists the help of the handcuffed Louis to try and get in contact with the rescuers.
Penned by spy novelist Charles Cumming and screenwriter J.P. Davis, Plane delivers exactly what you’d expect from a Gerard Butler action-adventure survival thriller: blood, sweat and brawn.  Butler is generally good in the piece, serving up the fight sequences between himself and brutal mercenaries though he’s arguably upstaged by the mercurial but dependable Mike Colter.  Fresh off of Luke Cage, Colter brings to the role formidability but also fierce determination and over the course of the movie we and Butler find ourselves leaning on Colter’s character.  Even if it is highly probably in another situation the man might kill you, at this stage he’s the only one who can save you.  Also bringing an amount of pedigree to the piece is Tony Goldwyn as the Special Forces officer leading the rescue effort, arguably the film’s most overqualified actor.

Visually the film was somewhat hard to gauge.  Shot handsomely in widescreen but at a frame rate that felt like HFR retroactively converted back down to 24 frames per second, opening shots have that digital smearing in camera movement usually seen in mid-2000s Michael Mann movies.  Shot by the same man behind Rambo: Last Blood, Brendan Galvin, it looks mostly fine if not a little rough around the edges at times given the cameras used.  Sonically Plane is loud and bombastic with a nerve-wracking score co-written by The Hurt Locker composer Marco Beltrami and Mesrine composer Marcus Trumpp.  Though neither the visuals or the music necessarily are breaking new ground here, they’re in service to an otherwise solid thriller that’s better than it has any right to be given the leading man involved.

Ostensibly a modern-day Cannon Film in the same way things like Mercenary Fighters or Missing in Action go with cartoonish adversaries being blown to bits in over-the-top action sequences, Plane is a good popcorn movie that is, yes, a bit messy at times but mostly this low aimer winds up kind of soaring.  Considering how poor some of Gerard’s past movies have been, London Has Fallen perhaps being the nadir, Plane though a by-the-numbers flick we’ve seen a thousand times before winds up working and like Greenland before it shows Gerard is indeed trying to do better.  A B movie actor who seems to have found his niche paired up with an already skillful director, Butler’s latest film Plane is a great way to kill two hours for some old fashioned if not ridiculous action-adventure thrills. 

--Andrew Kotwicki