Based on a story by Charles Cumming, directed by Jean-Francois Richet, the straightforwardly titled Plane has the Gerard Butler stamp all over it. The film is 107 minutes of breathless, white-knuckle action and drama fans expect from the Olympus Has Fallen star.
Cumming and J P Davis’s screenplay pivots around a near-empty flight en route from Singapore to Tokyo that passes through a violent storm and then lands in the middle of another crisis. The plane is being flown by captain Brodie Torrance (Butler) along with co-pilot Dele (Yoson An) and a small inflight crew lead by Bonnie (Daniella Pineda). Among the passengers are holiday makers, businessmen and Louis Gaspare (Mike Colter), a murder-accused fugitive who is being extradited.
It’s in the airplane scenes that the story feels most authentic, as the pilots run through their pre-flight checks and engage in banter. Brodie is concerned that the assigned flight path is forcing them to fly through a raging storm, but the airline representative doesn’t want them to reroute and waste fuel. It’s a harrowing flight and when lightning hits, Brodie has to think quickly and make unilateral decisions in order to save the passengers. He pulls out every ounce of experience to execute an extremely risky emergency landing onto a remote island in the Philippines. Only after landing the plane does he realise that they have skirted one storm only to land into another.
The island of Jolo is highly dangerous. Controlled by armed separatists, it’s a no-go zone for the local government and authorities. With few resources at their disposal and a ticking clock, Brodie is compelled to partner with Gaspare to try and get the passengers out of danger. Brodie is a pilot who is ridiculously adept at hand-to-hand combat and handling firearms. But he cannot go it alone against the heavily weaponized separatists who are threatening to take all the passengers as hostages.
Back in America, the airline’s control centre is a huddle of heads working with Scarsdale’s (Tony Goldwyn) perspicacious and prompt crisis management. The somewhat clinical and capitalistic discussions in the boardroom are acutely juxtaposed with the panic and frenzy around the distressed plane.
The best executed scenes are those when the plane is flying through a storm. You feel the roughness of the weather, and the fear of having a menacing convict on board. The action on land (filmed in Puerto Rico), is largely about fighting off shoot-first-think-later band of militants under the leadership of Junmar (Evan Dane Taylor).
Fortunately, this is not a survival drama that depends entirely on one man saving the day. While Butler retains centrestage, he shares the spotlight with Colter, who amps up the testosterone, and Yoson On and Daniella Pineda, who provide vulnerability and demonstrate grace under pressure.
Plane delivers as much as promised, secure in the knowledge that relentless action and the lead star’s cache will leave the viewer little time to question events or apply logic.