One thing you can say about Gerard Butler -- he has certainly found his comfort zone. And these days it's rare to see the 53-year-old Scotsman step outside of it. Much like Liam Neeson, Butler has settled into making easy to digest action-heavy thrillers. To his credit, his movies tend to come with a slightly higher budget, with Butler often serving as his own co-producer.
Butler's movies also tend to be a little wackier, which (in different instances) has been both a blessing and a curse. Aside from his tamer roles as a cop, a secret service agent, a hit man, and a submarine commander, he has fought dragons, played an Egyptian god, taken on a global weather disaster and survived a planet-killing comet. So at least in that regard you know there's a chance to get something a little bonkers whenever a Gerard Butler movie comes around.
Following last year's thrill-free thriller "Last Seen Alive," Butler returns with the generically titled but surprisingly propulsive "Plane." This time around he plays a commercial pilot named Brodie Torrance (that's such a Gerard Butler character name). While it may not sport the most inspired title, "Plane" turns out to be a lot of fun. And it lands at a good time, as many of us have been (and in some cases still are) cramming a steady diet of prestige films and awards contenders. It was kinda nice to sit back and take in a straightforward no-frills action flick.
"Plane" is directed by Jean-Francois Richet working from a script by screenwriter J.P. Davis and spy novelist Charles Cumming. Their story offers up a hearty helping of old-school action with some light survival thriller elements thrown in. Its framework may be pretty standard issue, but it's well shot and especially well-paced. Richet keeps his story and his audience steadily moving forward, spending just enough time on the details to keep us onboard. And Butler makes for a sturdy and believable lead.
On New Year's Eve, Captain Brodie is set to fly Trailblazer 119 and its 14 passengers from Singapore to Tokyo. After the six hour and 30 minute flight, it's off to Maui where he'll spend a few days with his daughter Daniela (Haleigh Hekking). Once onboard, Brodie meets his co-pilot for the flight, Dele (Yoson An) and the head flight attendant Bonnie, (Daniella Pineda) and begins preparing for takeoff.
The only concern is a heavy patch of storms over the South China Sea, which Brodie recommends flying around. But the higher-ups would rather save fuel than add another hour to such a small flight. So they urge Brodie to push through the weather. It's "Airline protocol" we're later told. Adding yet another wrinkle, just as they are about to start boarding passengers, a federal marshal escorts Louis Gaspare (Mike Colter) onto the plane. He's a fugitive who was apprehended in Bali and is being extradited to the States for a murder committed 15 years ago.
After a smooth takeoff, they hit the storm while flying over the Philippines. Brodie attempts to climb to 40,000 feet to clear the weather, but the plane is struck by lightning and loses power, forcing him to make a daring emergency landing. Once on the ground, Brodie realizes he has landed on Jolo, a volatile island controlled by antigovernment militias and separatists. In a snap, Brodie's job goes from getting his passengers safely on the ground to getting them safely off the island. But to pull it off he'll need help from an unexpected source -- Louis Gaspare.
Meanwhile, back at Trailblazer headquarters in New York, a no-nonsense crisis manager named David Scarsdale (a really good Tony Goldwyn) is called in to find the downed plane and extract the survivors before they're captured and killed by the ruthless and eruptive militia commander Junmar (Evan Dane Taylor). And so the table is set.
Richet never stays in one place very long, and the action quickly moves from a simmer to a boil. It can get a little brutal, especially in its bullet-riddled finale. But Richet never goes overboard. Outside of Butler's Brodie and Colter's Gaspare (to a degree), all others are basically well-acted stock characters. But that's OK in a movie like this. Some do get lost in the chaos. But most play their parts and fill their roles well.
Outside of some shaky CGI effects and its one-dimensional (yet admittedly menacing) villains, "Plane" is every bit the movie it sets out to be. For action fans, it'll be right up their alley. For Butler loyalists (I'm assuming they exist), this is one of their man's better movies. For those who simply want to kick back, unplug, and unwind, Butler and company have just what you're looking for. Sure, movies like this are a dime a dozen. But when they're done this well, you can't help but have a good time.
85 Cast: Gerard Butler, Mike Colter, Yoson An, Daniella Pineda, Paul Ben-Victor, Remi Adeleke, Haleigh Hekking, Joey Slotnick, Evan Dane Taylor, Claro de los Reyes, Tony Goldwyn
Director: Jean-Francois Richet
Running time: 1 hour, 47 minutes