'Snakes on a Plane'

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There are times when you go to the movies to peer into a window on the human condition that might otherwise be closed. There are other times when you go to the movies to have your heart tugged by simple acts of bravery or love. There are still other times when you go to movies to find out stuff you never knew before.

Then, there are movies like "Snakes on a Plane," which offers nothing more than a chance to jump out of your seat, gross out your loved ones and shout back at the screen.

Are those good enough reasons to sacrifice a couple of hours of your life? Ask the millions who've been waiting on pins and needles for this silly thing to hit the multiplexes since rumors of its impending release emerged a year ago. Decades from now, candidates for MBA degrees will be writing papers analyzing how "Snakes on a Plane" was pre-sold on the Internet well before there was so much as a trailer.

"Snakes on a Plane," in other words, is the Saturday Night Special as pop phenomenon, making it the very model of a "critic-proof" movie. So what? Being as susceptible to over-the-top gratuitous absurdity as the next person, I had as good a time watching the movie as I did listening to the shrieking and hooting from the audience -- both to join in the fun and keep fears at bay.

So how exactly do snakes get on this plane? We'll keep this simple: A surfer dude (Nathan Phillips) accidentally witnesses a murder in Hawaii by a vicious crime boss. The boss' thugs track the frightened dude to his apartment. Just before the dude's about to get whacked, FBI agent Neville Flynn (Samuel L. Jackson) pops up on the dude's terrace to save his surfer heinie.

Wait! How did the FBI guy know where and how to save him? Because he's Samuel L. Jackson, that's how! And why bother thinking about plausibility when what you really want to know is when the snakes are let loose?

OK, listen: The hood arranges for a shipment of poisonous snakes of every conceivable variety to sit in the baggage compartment of an airliner carrying Jackson and his witness back to L.A. The snakes, their aggression juiced by pheromones, are released in mid-flight and begin feasting on passengers and crew in unspeakably relentless fashion.

Director David R. Ellis gives "Snakes" such a conspicuously cheap veneer that you know it's on purpose. His movie spins and spoofs every hoary convention in the disaster-horror-thriller genre to the point where it's impossible to imagine ever taking such movies seriously again. That's probably a good thing. But just as probably, someone will figure out how to make a sequel with more blankety-blank snakes on another blankety-blank plane.

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