Come Monday morning, New Line was unhappy that Snakes on a Plane did just $15.25 million on its three-day opening weekend. Where did all that delicious buzz go, they wondered? According to the trades, they came to the idiot conclusion that one couldn’t pry America’s movie-chatterers from their computers.
I spotted five of their missing customers, white girls fleeing the city on the LIRR, on Friday evening. Somewhere near Babylon, they were flipping through EW and Us Weekly and talking retardedly of Hilary Duff’s nose. “I can’t believe we’re missing Snakes on a Plane!” one of them squealed. And yet off they went to the beach for the weekend. Thieving wenches! How dare they steal 50 bucks from New Line by going AWOL?
The weather was nice all weekend, though that sort of hussy has fun wherever she goes. They all might have been better served by getting schooled at the cinema.
Snakes on a Plane addressed itself to the biggest, and possibly the most profitable, question wrapping its way around the entertainment-industrial complex today: Who doesn’t want to be black?
What was that film exactly? Airplane! meets United 93? Not quite. If SoaP were a band (and who’s to say it won’t be soon?) and this were a Pitchfork album review, we’d settle on: Soul Plane meets Turbulence 3: Heavy Metal.
The tangled orgy of genre miscegenation that produced Snakes on a Plane has to be addressed with a certain care. Interpretation, after all, hangs on realized intentions, and there may be none of such in SoaP.
(Speaking of intentions, I may have been hallucinating, but it looked like David R. Ellis got both a before-the-title and an end-of-opening-credits director title. Is life so long? Well, it’s his movie—to steal from Joan Didion—and he’s welcome to it.)
(Still speaking of intentions: Let’s just say that a bunch of snakes—some denoted as “Middle Eastern”—commandeering a commercial jetliner’s beverage cart, careening toward the cockpit and also killing the pilot, has some bearing on 9/11 and move the hell on. Was that on purpose? Hey, maybe! Let’s roll, snakes!)
But the race stuff in SoaP was clearly on purpose, and you didn’t need Mo’Nique wo-manning the security line to tell you that.
As a South Pacific Air flight boards in Hawaii—for the slow, this is the so-called “plane” referenced in the film’s title—the passengers are informed that first class has been cancelled. Back to steerage go the white people. “Is it safe?” asks an executive skank-type. Likewise Three G’s, a rapper, and his entourage must head to the back of the bus. Oh, but not for long!
Mr. G’s has given an autograph-signing before boarding. In the airport, a little white gangster boy has asked for an autograph. “Stay black,” says Mr. G’s, not without an instant of reflection on the idea, and the boy nods enthusiastically.
As the film unspools—Whoa, snakes! Who fucking knew? And are you really going to make me recount the plot at this point in time? Even if just to pad out my word count?—Samuel L. Jackson does some stuff that makes you think he’d be pretty dreamy as the first black President. His work ethic as Mr. F.B.I. is boundless; his cut-the-crap settings are amped to max.
Snakes, snakes. One of Mr. G’s entourage saves the day—particularly remarkable in that the fat-oaf type would have been first up against the wall (first down the snakehole?)—in an old-school horror flick.
Not a single black person dies.
Oh ho, and let’s not forget the Asian dude, a guy flying home from a martial-arts championship. (Since the founding of the Wu-Tang Clan—and the coming of both Jet and Gong Li—Asians have become almost as emulation-worthy for white kids as blacks. The whole hybrid kung-fu/hip-hop movie—Romeo Must Die et al.—has done its part.) He ends up a hero too, carrying a white woman to safety through the cabin, which is by that point as packed with snakes as Lebanon is with Hezbollah.
Meanwhile, our white hero—the witless witness being transported to Los Angeles by Mr. Jackson—is aggressively white, painted as racially lazy. He’s remarkably unconcerned and unriled for a guy who had to watch the film’s opening murder; I think I was more upset watching a guy get baseball-batted onscreen than he was. And then his attitude is all, Testify against a bad guy? Dude, I was going surfing in Burma! (Or Borneo, or something. Wherever lazy white people caper off to.)
Most of the rest of the white people get picked off one by one. Early up is a dumb white post-frat-type guy in the bathroom, reassuring himself about the size of his cock. He dies in the bathroom by impaling his skull through some bathroom ornamentation while trying to get a snake off his business. Valerie Solanas wouldn’t have written it any more gruesome.
The odious European—remarkably, eerily similar to the fusty European in United 93—bites it spectacularly.
The heinous execu-whore white girl macks on the rapper by quoting black-music lyrics to him. (Excuse me, stewardess, she does speak jive.) Thereby having proven herself, is she making it out alive? You betcha!
Fascinating stuff. Nearly 20 years after Hollywood Shuffle, the black folks are finally the ones flying the plane. (How fast was Kareem Abdul-Jabbar dispatched from the cockpit in Airplane!?)
It’s an inevitable escalation, of sorts. In all those other plane-disaster flicks, it was always a lady flight attendant at the yoke. Dude! The air mattress is flying the plane! So this is just where we are now.
Oh yeah. Is SoaP any good? If by “I didn’t put my feet on the floor for an hour” is the measure of good, then hell yes. Were there leaden, dead moments? Aplenty!
The dumb moments get swallowed up in a full theater, though. The lack of screenings found film critics among actual popcorn-munching, back-talking audiences. More than a couple wrote that their movie-going experience had been elevated by lively crowds. Surprise!
Here’s hoping the critics of America hit it at Brooklyn’s Court Street Stadium 12, or the local equivalent, where they can run into the real-life Brenda Meekses of the world—the cell-phone-answering black girl of the first Scary Movie, who was slaughtered for chatting away in a theater by an angry audience. “I don’t know why y’all is acting like this,” Ms. Meeks cried out during an all-white screening of Shakespeare in Love, shortly before she bled to death. “My girlfriend already saw the movie, and she says they don’t even stay together in the end!”
Ha! Surely the critics will be happy to get back to the plush silence of the studio screening rooms. Let’s hope we gave them something to remember us by.
Idlewild is the film vehicle that it was necessary to create to get an album out of OutKast. The finickier half of the duo, André 3000, has for a few years now been unwilling to participate. Nothing that puts his fussy butt back in the studio can be bad. Still, the movie’s not good enough to make you forget you’re having to first hear bits of this long-awaited collaboration over a generic multiplex sound system.
The movie uses this self-orbiting double-star system as childhood friends in Prohibition-era Georgia. Big Boi (Antwan A. Patton, the homeboy one) is a hustler turned rapper and businessman; André 3000 (André Benjamin, the aesthete) is a mortician’s son turned musician. One has a struggle being a good family man; one has a struggle with love and artistry. The movie itself has a struggle not being Under the Cherry Moon.
Why do music-video directors pout that they want to be taken seriously as film artists—as Idlewild’s Bryan Barber pre-emptively has—if they then will set up the stars of their feature films to lip-synch songs during gun battles? Sure, it’s super-tempting here, because this soundtrack is totally awesome. Early in the film, Mr. 3000 rolls out of bed, beneath a wall of crazy cuckoo clocks, singing one of his outlandish jazz-soul-hip-hop things, and it is so, so great.
The movie is herky-jerky with digi-film tricks and stop-start and other trappings of the commercial-experimental. Mr. Barber makes things pretty and keeps them moving and isn’t without a cool hacky poetry.
Style, everywhere! But meaning?
In the introduction to her 2002 album Under Construction, Missy Elliott pointed out that one doesn’t see Bill Gates and Donald Trump having Hot 97–beef shootouts. She had one idea about why. “Both of them got paper and they got better shit to do: Get more paper.” The album that followed sometimes trod on and over the main narrative conflict in black music since, oh, at least Curtis Mayfield: the accumulation of money versus happiness and spirituality. In the past, OutKast has indulged this conversation more subtly than, say, Ms. Elliott and Mary J. Blige and Prince and Public Enemy and (from the opposite side of the aisle) Lil’ Kim. But Idlewild removes them from that conversation entirely. Odd, then, that it’s set just around the corner and around the decade from The Color Purple.
Near the end of Idlewild, someone lies shot and bleeding in a club. (That’s no spoiler. If you didn’t guess that someone was going to get shot in a gangster’s speakeasy, you have no business attending a rapper’s-delight flick.) After the shootout, people grab up drifting paper, in the form of old-style fivers, as fast as they can. It should have been a pointed bit of imagery.
But it isn’t, and so the movie is nearly as devoid of politics as it is of white people— rarely, one of those tiptoes in and no one can deal with them. (Idlewild conspicuously removes white people so that the topic of that particular conflict can’t be broached.)
“Pussy and money: If God created anything better, He kept it to Himself,” says Sunshine Ace, the porcine and greasy speakeasy owner. There’s a point in there about greed and shortsightedness and something …. So blurry …. Ooh, look, shiny musical number!
In other troubles with “meaning” in the film, it turns out that the more popular Mr. 3000’s character gets as a musician, the more sucky his music becomes. Real life has proved the opposite.
There is some super casting. Macy Gray as a bad girl; Patti LaBelle, briefly, as a diva. Some casting is just “meh”: The lead woman has a voice double for her song. If only Mr. 3000’s ex-lover Erykah Badu had shown up in a towering head wrap and shaken this particular block party all the way down.
Maybe it’s just that a music movie needs less talking and a talking movie needs less rapping.
The studio’s screening was held at 6 p.m. on a weekday, in a multiplex on Broadway in the 80’s, with a roped-off section for critics and guests. The rest of the theater was either a self-selecting or solicited audience of young black kids. From them, the movie got some laughs and, at the end, applause. (There were a few couples outside who said they found it a bit hokey in its fairly generic plotting—what a fine line between comfortable and predictable!) But that audience’s enthusiasm is what counts. And though Idlewild might not be a terrible school of politics and history, it’s a decent lesson of art and morals—and, for music, it’s the best university in the world.