Plane Review: Gerard Butler's '90s Throwback Is A Breath Of Fresh Air
  • Jan. 11, 2023 11:00 am EST

January is rarely a time for blockbuster cinema. In the rare case that it is, we're dealing with a holdover from December released the previous year (see, "Avatar: The Way of Water"). Or, it's something so bad that the studio has little faith in that they decide to dump it early in the year rather than give it a confident, summer release. So, it's easy to look at "Plane," a new mid-budget action/thriller starring Gerard Butler ("Olympus Has Fallen," "Law Abiding Citizen") and dismiss it as typical January schlock. It brings me enormous joy to tell you that is not at all the case, as this is a '90s throwback that comes as a breath of fresh air, even if it's not the most original air you've ever tasted.

The film centers on a family man pilot named Brodie Torrance (Butler), who is very Scottish and very devoted to his job. After being forced to fly through a storm, things go south in a hurry and he is forced to make a risky landing on an unidentified island. Unfortunately, when he and the flight's passengers discover that the island is entirely occupied by violent rebels, it becomes more than just a rescue mission. The twist? Mr. Torrance was reluctantly forced to harbor a prisoner on his relatively empty flight — one who may or may not be violent. Now, this pilot's best chance of getting out of this situation alive is to turn to this mysterious man in cuffs named Louis Gaspare (Mike Colter). Let the games begin!

The sum of its parts

This is a movie that feels very much from an era when a premise was enough to qualify for a studio budget, and that premise coupled with a star or two was enough to get people out to a theater. You know, the 1990s. That's more of a challenge these days, which is why we don't see movies like this outside of Redbox nearly as often anymore. As an admitted devotee to the religion of popcorn movies, it is a damn delight to get something cut from that cloth right now. Not just because it is what it is, but because it knows exactly what it is and executes it so effectively.

"Plane" is not, by measure of any one of its individual parts, an original bit of cinema. It is part plane crash movie, part terrorist flick, part reluctant buddy-cop team-up film. It's all stuff we've seen before in different combinations, but it makes for a satisfying combination. Credit to director Jean-Francois Richet, who previously helmed the "Assault on Precinct 13" remake, for understanding the assignment. It's not tongue-in-cheek, it's just a movie being about what it's about, and that is fun when it needs to be fun. It's tense what it needs to be tense. And damned if it doesn't work in the end.

Gerard Butler is, rather charmingly, back at it again

A gigantic part of what makes this thing work is Butler and the underused Colter. Perhaps it's because we're not so over-exposed to these guys as we were with the likes of Arnold Schwarzenegger or Sylvester Stallone in their day. Whatever the case, there's a charm to Butler's commitment to his roles, and earnest embodiment of those roles. Colter, meanwhile, feels tragically underseen in action cinema, as he's an absolute charmer here. And boy, is it fun watching him do action guy stuff! Butler and Colter together? It totally works.

It's also interesting to see Butler is never afraid to do what is required of him. Does he need to be the toughest guy on screen? Absolutely not. There's no reason that a pilot would be equipped for a situation like this. Do you believe this guy can rise to the occasion with all that Scottish pride bursting inside of him? Also yes. While it largely becomes a two-hander, the surrounding roles, overall, are well cast, if underutilized a bit. Daniella Pineda, for example, doesn't get a ton to do but works with what she's got.

In the end, "Plane" is more thriller than action most of the way, which actually makes the action scenes all the more satisfying when they finally ratchet up. I suspect that those who go into this with the right expectation — people that see there's a movie called "Plane" starring a guy like Butler and go "Oh. Okay. Yes." — will enjoy the results. Sure, it's simple, but why does that have to be a bad thing? It's a movie that delivers exactly what it promises. You pull up to the drive-thru, you order your food, you get what you pay for. A fine Saturday afternoon if you ask me.

/Film rating: 7 out of 10

"Plane" hits theaters on January 13, 2023.