Review: ‘Plane’ is a fun, dumb action throwback

Gerard Butler and Mike Colter squat holding machine guns in PLANE
Image via Lionsgate

There was once a time, specifically the late 1980s to early 1990s, when a filmgoer could walk into a theater and have a guaranteed, action-packed blast in under two hours.

Action movies of that era were tightly paced, full of borderline-goofy masculinity but also suspense and compelling set pieces. They seem like relics today, but Gerard Butler and company have set out to bring back this era with Plane, a fun, action-packed callback to movies we don’t get often anymore. It’s a return that brings back the unhinged joy of the action genre, but also some of the regressive politics, too. 

Captain Brodie Torrance (Butler) is on an important mission: make it to his sister’s house in time to celebrate the new year with her and his daughter. Brodie is an airplane pilot based out of Singapore who’s now relegated to lower-tier airlines because of an altercation with a passenger. He’s first and foremost a dad, however, and is determined to beat the 18-hour time difference standing between himself and his loved ones.

It seems like a straightforward enough flight, even with Louis Gaspare (Mike Colter) on board, who’s being extradited on murder charges (that he may not have committed). However, when Brodie’s forced to fly the plane through an intense storm, he finds himself on a war-torn island where chaos seemingly reigns. With his passengers taken hostage, Brodie and Louis have to team up to get them back, no matter the cost. 

Plane comes in at a tight 107-minute runtime, and it uses every second of it effectively. You learn what you need to from the script, the pacing and editing keep the story on track, and the performances feel efficient but compelling. Butler in particular is in great form here, playing Captain Torrance as a complicated action hero. Yes, he kills multiple people in this film, often violently, but he’s allowed to be soft, too (there is at least one scene where he’s crying alone in the plane, for instance). It’s an interesting tension the movie never fully explores, but one that intrigues regardless.

Colter as Louis is also compelling, bringing a quiet dignity to the role while still getting some violent kills in as well. The supporting performances are worthy of note too, specifically Yoson An as Brodie’s loyal co-pilot Dele, and Tony Goldwyn hamming it up as Scarsdale, a fixer for the airline responsible for this whole mess. Plane also has a respect and zeal for unhinged set pieces that set it apart from other action fare. Someone gets hit with a plane (really), and it’s a big swing that works! It’s hard to not smile when something that audacious appears in a mainstream action movie nowadays.

What’s less thrilling about Plane is the weird, regressive handling of Jolo and the Philippines in general. Jolo is painted as a lawless, chaotic underworld, and the Philippines are seen as indifferent/incapable of stopping any of it. The villains are all underwritten, grimacing caricatures, and although the script is probably doing this out of narrative economy, it still left a bad taste.

To be fair, the movie does some work to indict capitalism as well (Brodie is forced to fly his plane through the storm because the airline wants to save money on fuel). So there’s that, at least. As a whole, Plane is a fun, dumb throwback to a simpler time at the movies, and sometimes, that’s all you need.

Good

As a whole, 'Plane' is a fun, dumb throwback to a simpler time at the movies, and sometimes, that’s all you need.