Plane review: Gerard Butler sticks the landing

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Gerard Butler, Mike Colter, and Tony Goldwyn star in the action-thriller Plane, a film that does what it says on the tin, and does it with gusto…


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Let’s get one thing out of the way from the start – yes, Plane is a movie called Plane. And yes, the bluntness of that title reveal was quite funny when we saw the trailer cold in cinemas. But also, yes, boiling the film down to a title that’s also a viable Wordle guess will save everyone on Earth millions of minutes when it comes to streaming and your dad asks, “what’s that film with the plane?”, and lo and behold, it’s called Plane.

Those are minutes you can spend watching Plane instead of asking them “can you remember anything else about it?” and they’ll be minutes well spent. That’s not the only aspect of this film that feels machine-tooled for dads, but there’s much dumb fun to be had in director Jean-François Richet’s violent, sweltering layover on a remote island in the Philippines.

Using his own Scottish accent for once (now he can get really cross), Butler plays ex-RAF commercial pilot Captain Brodie Torrance. He’s trying to get home to spend New Year with his daughter (Haleigh Hekking) in Honolulu, but first he must fly Trailblazer Flight 119 from Singapore to Tokyo, carrying a motley bunch of passengers and Louis Gaspare, (Mike Colter) a last-minute arrival who’s being extradited by the FBI on charges of homicide.

And then lightning strikes the plane, and all flipping heck breaks loose. Soon after a scary emergency landing, Torrance and his passengers are besieged by armed bastards, led by ruthless drug-cartel kingpin Junmar (Evan Dane Taylor). With crisis manager Scarsdale (Tony Goldwyn) taking charge at corporate HQ, Torrance and Gaspare team up to try and get everyone out alive.

The “Die Hard in a…” formula is stock-in-trade for most mid-budget smack-‘em-up rampages – and for most Gerard Butler movies, frankly – but Plane firms up Butler’s mastery of the 3-star action feature by playing up the “everydad” factor. Liam Neeson has his particular set of skills, but Butler plays a wider range of personalities, if not a wider range of ex-military civilian characters.

He’s still down for a physically demanding brawl when the situation calls for it, but he’s also one of those action stars who’s a better actor than his notices suggest. For all the noise and splatter and occasional suspense, most of his stronger moments find Torrance alone on the plane, gathering his thoughts and releasing his emotions when he’s not having to put on a brave front for everyone else. Captain Phillips, it ain’t, but it’s the bit that most embattled-dad actioners forget that Die Hard did so well.

And maybe it’s Butler’s consistency in this type of movie, but his role in this reminded me a lot of those 2010s action movies where Denzel Washington puts an up-and-coming franchise player over the top as a movie star, like Chris Pine in Unstoppable or Ryan Reynolds in Safe House.

Here it’s Colter, who’s best known for his underrated turn as Luke Cage in Marvel’s cancelled Netflix series, and until now, hasn’t been best utilised as an action star. He’s got a solid, old-school quality, which stood apart in those Defenders shows and serves this film very well.

In the grand scheme of things, he’s ultimately a sidekick to Butler, more a scene-stealer in the big fights than a character whose arc gets the same amount of screentime, but hopefully we’ll be seeing more of him doing his thing off the back of this.

There’s also some lovely stuff with the great Tony Goldwyn in the mad situation-room-style cutaways. If Trailblazer wasn’t a fictional airline, his bits would almost look like an advert for their crisis management, complete with military resources, satellite access, and (I hooted at this line) “press releases for every possible outcome”. The script by Charles Cumming and J.P. Davis doesn’t give Goldwyn the great zingers he deserves, but he livens up the office-bound bits considerably.

Finally, Plane starts and ends very strongly. Though the film lists a bit in the middle, Richet deftly handles some obvious budget limitations and wrangles suspense out of those opening and closing set-pieces, even if nobody’s really in any doubt about the outcome. But with this and several of the stronger Gerard Butler vehicles, the art of the 3-star action movie is not in surprising you, but leaving you satisfied.

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