Plane is officially billed as a thriller, but given the gleefully swaggering machismo parade of action-hero/buddy-movie cliches it traffics in, it almost feels like a satire. You can practically hear the pitch meeting: “Die Hard meets Captain Phillips meets Rambo but with a plane.” That’s pretty much what you get in director Jean-François Richet’s production for Lionsgate, screenplay by Charles Cumming and J.P. Davis, story by Davis. Lack of originality isn’t a dealbreaker. I was thoroughly entertained, watching pilot Brodie Torrance (a literally gritty Gerard Butler) morph from well-coiffed, buttoned-up family man to grimy dude in a ripped, bloody muscle shirt unleashing his inner Iron John with guns of both flesh and steel. Furthermore, local hero Joey Slotnik is extremely hilarious and equally despiseable as the kind of passenger who, were you to encounter him in real life, would force you to weigh your own capacity for inciting violence in small spaces. Also: Tony Goldwyn plays a shadowy, impeccably dressed, high-level government operative-type named Scarsdale, and who doesn’t want to see that? Finally, the supporting leads here—Yoson An as copilot Samuel Dele and Mike Colter as Gaspare, a convicted criminal with a mysterious past and unguessable motives—make stock roles memorable. Gaspare is all still water running deep; Dele wears his heart on his sleeve. You’ll be rooting for them both.
What ultimately ruins the movie is the lazy one-dimensionality of its villains. We know three things about the hyper-violent “pirates” (I don’t have a copy of the script, but I could swear I heard the word “separatist” used) led by Datu Junmar (Evan Dane Taylor) in attacking the passengers: First, they speak English with some form of accent. Second, they are quick to terrorize and kill people. Third, we are in some undisclosed “war-torn” nation, to quote the press materials. Stereotype and cliche remain alive and well on the big screen. R, 107 min.