In Review: 'Plane,' 'Sick'
This week, two January genre movies keeps it simple. One-word titles, thrills on a budget.
Dir. Jean-François Richet
The title is Plane. There are no snakes on this plane. This is not a soul plane. It is neither Air Force One nor The Concorde circa 1979. It’s about a reliable hunk of metal that’s gotten passengers from one place to another for years and still holds up, however beaten-down and ungainly it appears to be. There is no more fitting title for this modest, pleasingly familiar piece of January schlock, which is just crazy enough in the margins to give it personality, but is otherwise steady as she goes. The skies used to be full of such flights. Now we feel grateful for a ticket.
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Looking perfectly at home in this B-level thriller, Gerard Butler grimaces and jokes his way through the role of Brodie Torrance, a commercial pilot who works for a two-bit airline called Trailblazer. With only 14 people aboard a flight from Singapore to Tokyo, Brodie looks forward to a routine six hours in the air, followed by a vacation to see his grown daughter in Hawaii. But there are two signs of trouble: One last-minute passenger is a fugitive (Mike Colter) being extradited on homicide charges and a penny-pitching airline rep is asking Brodie to push through a dangerous storm in order to save on fuel costs. Naturally, the plane gets zapped by an electrical storm and makes an emergency landing on an island teeming with heavily armed Filipino separatists.
The search-and-rescue operation is a hoot, with Tony Goldwyn chewing up scenery as a former Special Forces officer who seems to anticipate every crazy twist of the plot as if he planned for that contingency. An island so dangerous the government won’t even send its troops there? He’s got guys for that. And if those guys get in a situation sticky enough to where they have to buy their way out of trouble? No worries. They have a duffel bag full of cash. As for Brodie and the scowling stranger in handcuffs, they have to band together to save the other passengers, who are reasonable people for the most part, but don’t have much to do other than to vow never to take a budget airline again.
The journeyman director, Jean-François Richet, directed the 2005 remake of John Carpenter’s Assault on Precinct 13, so the premise of a good guy and a bad guy teaming up against worse guys is comfortable terrain. Staging the action in the Philippines also recalls an era when Roger Corman got enough financial inducements to give his women-in-cages movies an exotic jungle backdrop. At worst, Plane has a forgettable, movie-with-air-conditioning quality to it, rarely bothering to tweak an action formula that thrived in the post-Die Hard ’90s, but has petered out since. (Alternate title: Plain.) But now, it feels like a refreshing novelty to have a robust, solidly crafted shoot-‘em-up in theaters. The stakes are low and the bar is lower, but damned if it isn’t a good time. — Scott Tobias
Plane is now playing in theaters everywhere.
Dir. John Hyams
The slasher film Sick opens with a short title card letting viewers know that the film takes place in April 2020, in the early days of the lockdowns meant to contain the COVID-19 pandemic. That note seems to be for future generations of viewers. Anyone who lived through the period will be able to pinpoint it in time right away from the details. Store shelves picked clean of toilet paper, groceries that have to be wiped off before they’re put away, the ambiguous protocols around when and where to mask: Sick establishes an all-to-familiar fretful atmosphere even before the arrival of its knife-wielding killer.
That’s not the only familiar element of the film, which opens with a taunting phone message — a text, not a call — then dispatches a familiar face (Kissing Booth star Joel Courtney) before even revealing the title. Any resemblance to Scream — which extends to the terse title and the threatening-but-vulnerable killer — is, well, totally understandable. The screenplay comes from newcomer Katelyn Crabbe and Scream writer Kevin Williamson and the film often plays like a scaled-down version of a Scream movie without the meta elements. That’s not really a problem, though, thanks to a pair of appealing lead performances and the deft technical skill of director John Hyams, a veteran of the much-liked later Universal Soldier films and TV series like Chucky and the no-nonsense zombie show Black Summer. Sick might be novel largely because of its pandemic setting, but that doesn’t make it a pretty satisfying watch anyway.
Gideon Adlon stars as Parker, a college student who’s desperate to get away from the doom-and-gloom that pervades campus (and maybe find a fresh backdrop for her Instagram posts). Deciding to quarantine in comfort, she brings her best friend Miri (Beth Million) to her family’s summer home, a luxurious lake house. It’s also pretty remote, which is good when it comes to avoiding contracting COVID, but not so advantageous when Parker starts to receive threatening texts from someone who seems to know who she is and what she’s doing.
Sick eventually connects the dots between its slasher killer and COVID-19, but it’s more effective before making that connection. The payoff works, but the build up to it works even better, presenting Parker and Miri with a vague, invisible threat that evolves into a relentless attacker determined to take advantage of any slip-up and break through even the most careful defenses. But, hey, at least they wear a mask. —Keith Phipps
Sick is now streaming exclusively on Peacock.
It is weird how Plane felt refreshing just for being a non-franchise, non-superhero movie that aimed strictly to entertain. It also has a decent sense of humor (Butler's phone call with customer service, the viral video featuring Butler, Tony Goldwyn's verbal evisceration of the airline bean counter bureaucrat, Colter's bemusement when Butler is surprised he didn't run away).
I would not have predicted in the late '90s that the director of Ma 6-T va crack-er (an effective piece of violent agitprop) would go on to direct made-for-cable action thrillers, but here we are.