Review: Gerard Butler Takes Overly Complicated Plane Seriously Enough, Even if Audiences Won’t

There’s a fine line between ridiculous and stupid, and many of Gerard Butler’s movies dance along that line, often tripping over themselves and landing on the stupid side of things. But every so often, he hits his stride, takes a ridiculous premise seriously, and gets the job of making an entertaining film done. You may leave the theater doing the walk of shame, but later, you’ll admit you had a good time. Plane is a textbook example of just such a journey into the fun zone: the premise is outrageous, but the execution gets enough right that it’s possible to be entertained by it, and that has to count for something in this month in which most new (non-awards contenders) movies are disposable cinema.

In Plane, Butler plays Scottish-born pilot Brodie Torrance, and the film begins with him racing through an airport in Southeast Asia to make a flight he’s piloting that will get him to a planned vacation with his daughter Carrie (Heather Seiffert) in Hawaii. We quickly meet his co-pilot Dele (Yoson An), the flight crew and the 14 passengers who are making the first leg of this journey to Hong Kong, including Louis Gaspare (Mike Colter), a prisoner being escorted back to the States by an FBI agent. They take up residence in the back, while the small group of passengers scatter throughout the otherwise mostly empty plane. Shortly after takeoff, the plane hits bad weather, is struck by lightning, and, losing all power, forces Torrance into an emergency landing. Just before they hit the water, they see a small island with a road big enough to land on, and they get everyone down in one piece, minus two people who were not in their seats when a major gust of wind hit the plane, including the FBI agent watching Gaspare, sending them headfirst to the ceiling.

Directed by Paris-born Jean-François Richet (the Assault on Precinct 13 remake; The Emperor of Paris), the film then becomes two films: one that follows the survivors on this small and very dangerous island, and the other that tracks the search and rescue mission run by the airline and led by crisis-management expert Scarsdale (Tony Goldwyn). Because the plane went down on an island whose occupants regularly kidnap outsiders and threaten to kill them unless a ransom is paid (and aren’t bluffing about the killing part), Scarsdale has to hire a group of private mercenaries to parachute in and rescue the passengers and crew. While the mercs make their way to the island, the local kidnappers (led by Evan Dane Taylor’s Junmar) find the plane and take nearly everyone hostage, with only Capt. Torrance and Gaspare out in the jungle searching for a way to communicate with the outside world and then rescue their fellow passengers before they are taken off the island by boat. Sound unnecessarily complicated? You bet it is.

So much about Plane seems both overwritten and yet weirdly simple. Nearly every plan Torrance and Gaspare come up with to either kill the bad guys or save the good guys works without issue. When the rescue team shows up, things become easier still. Do a few passengers die along the way? Sure, but not that many, so it’s cool. Are all the asshole passengers bald guys? Yes they are. And despite the fact that Torrance lands the plane in one piece, the passengers still seem vaguely ungrateful and question every decision he makes on the ground. The film seems to have the need to invent drama among the characters when simply being the target of murderous kidnappers should be enough.

Also not surprising is that there might be more to Gaspare than we realize, but don’t expect to get any details; just know that he’s willing to risk his life to save strangers but not especially eager get thrown in prison when all of the shooting and blowing things up is said and done. The final standoff between the local rebels and the plane crash survivors is decently staged but still relatively small in scale, and the way they finally get off the island is, you guessed it, ridiculous, which is completely on brand for a movie with a title as stirring as Plane

For reasons I’ve never been clear on, I’m always rooting for Gerard Butler as a film actor. He can pull off a film like Greenland because he actually can be a solid actor when he cares about the material, and I get a sense he did mostly care about Plane. Or perhaps more accurately, he sensed a kindred spirit in Colter (Evil, Luke Cage) and rose to the occasion. Whatever the reason, the two of them make this film more enjoyable—and even exhilarating—than I ever would have guessed it could be, and that matters enough for me to recommend the work without doing cartwheels about it.

The film is now in theaters.

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Steve Prokopy
Steve Prokopy

Steve Prokopy is chief film critic for the Chicago-based arts outlet
Third Coast Review. For nearly 20 years, he was the Chicago editor for
Ain’t It Cool News, where he contributed film reviews and
filmmaker/actor interviews under the name “Capone.” Currently, he’s a
frequent contributor at /Film (SlashFilm.com) and Backstory Magazine.
He is also the public relations director for Chicago's independently
owned Music Box Theatre, and holds the position of Vice President for
the Chicago Film Critics Association. In addition, he is a programmer
for the Chicago Critics Film Festival, which has been one of the
city's most anticipated festivals since 2013.

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