Gerard Butler movies come in a couple of distinct flavors. The Scottish actor is a big personality, and his best recent films, like Angel Has Fallen and Greenland, have character to match him. And then you get stuff like Plane. A grim, serious action flick that is utterly unaware of how bad it is. If it were big, dumb, and self-aware this would be an easy landing for Butler and director Jean-Francois Richet. But passengers will instead be wishing this flight had been canceled.
At the very least, Butler continues his trend of playing heroic characters with ridiculous names. In this case, he’s commerical pilot Brodie Torrance, a name that makes him sound like an extra from Point Break. This is one of those movies where we quickly learn that everyone has a family they care for; in Brodie’s case a daughter that he was intending to meet in time for the holidays. But that plan gets put on ice when his plane, which is carrying a bare minimum of passengers, is struck by lightning and is forced to crash land. Unfortunately, Brodie chose the island of Jono, one of the most dangerous places in all of the Philippines, run by heavily-armed militias just dying to take a plane full of passengers hostage.
While that would seemingly be enough to make for a pretty solid Butler-led action flick where he barrels through a bunch of bad guys to save the day, Plane mucks it up with a subplot its writers are ill-equipped to see through. Luke Cage actor and legit intimidating badass Mike Colter plays passenger Louis Gaspare, an accused murderer who was being extradited, but saw his federal escort die in the crash. The central tension of the film is whether Louis can be trusted in this dire, life-or-death scenario. Would Brodie be stupid to turn his back on this alleged killer? To put his trust in him?
While Colter broods pretty good, he isn’t actually given the tools to make Louis a very compelling mystery. Plane does absolutely nothing with this potential powder keg, even as Brodie and Louis set out into enemy territory to find help. What’s the point of setting up this intriguing scenario if you aren’t going to do a damn thing with it?
What we get instead are pretty bland shootouts with forgettable bad guys whose only motivation is money. Far scarier than them is behind-the-scenes at the airline, where a renowned fixer (Tony Goldwyn) shows how easy it is to simply dial up an off-the-books mercenary group to pull Brodie and his people out of the fire. Profit margins being king, we see the extent the major airlines will go to in order to save money, forcing their pilots to brave dangerous weather and save expensive fuel. These are the real monsters, the script lazily suggests but never goes anywhere interesting with. Admittedly, I’m a sucker for a speeding plane and a dangerously short runway for takeoff. The finale gives us a pretty good one, unfortunately, accompanied by yet another stale armed standoff with angry rebels.
Butler is better than this. Yes, I know this is still the same guy from yawners like Den of Thieves and, ugh, Geostorm. But truly, Butler is seriously diminished in this film playing a character who isn’t particularly cool, and has nothing memorable to say or do. Brodie’s best moment is captured on video tape, choking out a belligerent passenger in such a way that the corporate suits fear him a PR nightmare. They try to paint him as a wild, John McClane-type who can’t be held back, but Plane never lets that version of the character get off the ground.
Plane opens in theaters on January 13th.