"That's it! I've had it with these motherfucking snakes on this motherfucking plane!"
The first time I heard that line, I couldn't imagine ever getting tired of it. As delivered by Samuel L. Jackson in full, vein-popping Jules Winnfield dudgeon, it is an irresistibly dumb, hilarious movie moment. And I'll admit it: I got swept up in the Snakes on a Planemania for a while. I downloaded the YouTube parodies, all that crap with Bears on a Winnebago and Cats on a Surfboard and Monkeys on a Jet Ski and all the rest of it. I even did that thing on the Snakes on a Planewebsite where you can have Samuel L. Jackson call your friends at work, by name, and tell them to get in their little tin can of a car and go see his motherfucking movie. (No, really, check it out if you don't believe me: snakesonaplane.varitalk.com.)
It was all fun . . . for a while. But then the hype kept coming, and coming. For months now, you haven't been able to watch TV without hearing somebody making a Snakes joke. If you get fed up and decide to turn off the TV and poke around online for a while, you soon find that the film is just as unavoidable there. For the love of Christ, there are even jokey Snakes porn sites; check out snakesonababe.com.
You try to escape the media onslaught for a while by going out to meet some friends, and they're all making their own feeble Snakes jokes. The hype for this movie is like an enormous, writhing, wriggly, hissing mass, popping out at you when you least expect it, coming from all sides, spitting horrible venom in your eyes, coiling around you as you struggle to breathe. Just like . . . well, right now I'm way too burned out from enduring all this Snakes hype to think of a decent simile, but you get the idea.
So I'm right there with you on this one, Samuel L: "That's it! I've had it with these motherfucking snakes on this motherfucking plane!"
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America has gone gaga for many completely dopey movies in the past, from the relatively benign—say, Independence Day—to the more malignant, such as The Passion of the Christ. But I think this is the first time everybody has gone so gaga for a movie that they knew was completely dopey. I don't think anybody is harboring any illusions that Snakes on a Plane will be any good, least of all the film's star; Jackson reportedly signed on to the film based on its title alone, and insisted on keeping it even when nervous studio execs wanted to change it to the more mundane Pacific Air Flight 121. Eventually those same studio execs wised up and recognized the peculiar phenomenon they had on their hands, and actually ordered some reshoots to make the film more campy and awful to ensure that it would live down to the audience's expectations. That's right, kids: they spent millions of dollars with the specific intention of making the film worse.
Now, I like me some crappy movies, and I have a shelf full of Mystery Science Theater 3000DVDs to prove it. I understand the appeal of the so-bad-it's-awesome. But there is the accidental, transcendent anti-genius of an Ed Wood, and then there's the calculated, self-satisfied, air-quotes "bad" of Snakes on a Plane. If Snakes makes any money (and with this movie's deafening buzz, I imagine you could buy Guam with the opening weekend's gross), the consequences for American cinema could be disastrous. We are living in an age when studios are so blockbuster-driven that they won't even touch a conventional drama, so guys like Robin Williams and Bill Murray are usually forced to slink off to the art house whenever they want to make a movie for grownups. Decent movies of any kind are becoming an increasingly rare treat, and if the studios get it into their heads that what we really want is crappy camp, it could be years before we see a good film again.
Still, it is possible that all of this Snakes on a Plane hysteria might be serving a useful societal purpose. Everything is so desperately bleak these days: we are ruled by dangerous, power-mad, repressive religious maniacs who are at war with other dangerous, power-mad, repressive religious maniacs; the economy is still in the crapper; and all that global warming stuff seems to be coming true all at once in our back yards while we're trying to enjoy a summer barbecue. The Wall Street Journal is soberly warning us that we should plan for the apocalypse on Aug. 22. (Google it.) So much is so wrong . . . but we turn on our TV, we poke around online, we get together with our friends, and instead of talking about all these terrible things we feel helpless to do anything about, we can just joke about this stupid movie. After the recent U.K. terrorist plot and the inevitable, dumbfuck airport security clampdown, the Liquids on a Plane jokes weren't actually funny . . . but at least they gave people something to do instead of sitting around crying about how deep we're in the shit.
Snakes on a Plane is reviewed in New Releases.