‘Plane’ Review: A First-Rate Action Thriller

A prisoner on airplane, a crash landing, a desperate attempt to save hostages — there's nothing new here, but Gerard Butler shines in this vastly entertaining genre film.

Gerard Butler as Brodie Torrance and Mike Colter as Louis Gaspare in ‘Plane.’ Kenneth Rexach/Lionsgate

There’s always room for another first-rate action thriller, and Plane breathlessly packs its punches in spades. Starring underrated, two-fisted hunk Gerard Butler and tightly directed by Jean-Francois Richet, it’s a satisfying rush of suspenseful excitement that is several notches above its competitors in the same genre.

PLANE ★★★ (3/4 stars)
Directed by: Jean-François Richet
Written by: Charles Cumming, J. P. Davis
Starring: Gerard Butler, Mike Colter, Yoson An, Tony Goldwyn
Running time: 107 mins.

Butler plays Brodie Torrance, a Scotland-born commercial pilot who takes off on a New Year’s Eve flight from Singapore to Tokyo carrying 14  passengers, including one last-minute arrival in handcuffs—an accused felon named Louis Gaspare (Mike Colter) who is being extradited by the FBI to stand trial for murder on the mainland. Flight 119 is only supposed to take six-and-a-half hours, but it barely reaches cruising altitude when the plane is hit by lightning in a brutal storm that plunges it into total darkness. An electrical malfunction forces Brodie to make an emergency crash landing over the China Sea, disappearing off the radar and hitting a narrow strip of road in the middle of a jungle-infested Filipino island, killing one flight attendant and the prisoner’s security guard. Controls are smashed, fuel is low, the radio is dead and all contact with the civilized world is suspended, but the survivors are still relieved to land safely—until optimism turns into terror with the realization that the island is occupied by the kind of homicidal political terrorists that only exist in the movies.

Brodie has no choice but to enlist the services of Gaspare, the only other person on the plane with the skills to fight the rebels and save the other passengers, who are taken hostage by the thugs and held for ransom. With his handcuffs removed, Gaspare proves to be a whiz with knives, machine guns, and sledgehammers. (He spent time in the French Foreign Legion.) From here, the film lurches and careens from one violent non-stop action sequence to the next, with enough killings, ambushes, fistfights, fires and explosions to keep fans of Con Air sated. The tight screenplay, by Charles Cumming and J. P. Davis, juxtaposes savage jungle action with the frantic and ever-changing strategy back at airline headquarters supervised by the crisis manager on whom so many lives depend (played by the handsome, always reliable veteran, Tony Goldwyn).

Gerard Butler gets a rare chance to show his humane side playing Brodie, who’s not always been the best father in the past but is anxious to make up for lost time by getting home in time to start the New Year with his daughter. Mr. Buttler proves he needs to branch out more and act in more sensitive roles beyond the limitations of thriller flicks. Most of the characters are one-dimensional cyphers, but the actors are first-rate—especially Yoson An as the mild-mannered but keenly reliable and steadily non-plussed Hong Kong-based co-pilot and Mike Coltor as the juggernaut with the criminal past who turns out to have a heart.   

Nothing new here to anyone who has seen Nicolas Cage in Con Air, Stephen Segal in Under Siege, or Liam Neeson in just about anything, but Plane is so well made and vastly entertaining you won’t even think about glancing at your watch.

Observer Reviews are regular assessments of new and noteworthy cinema.

‘Plane’ Review: A First-Rate Action Thriller