'Plane' flies high, despite offensively generic title

Gerard Butler action vehicle delivers thrills in the air and on the ground.

Adam Graham
Detroit News Film Critic

Make fun of the name of "Plane" all you'd like. It's the kind of glaringly obvious title you'd expect to see for a Hollywood movie in a foreign market where the translation is meant to convey the film's basic premise and nothing else. It's like if "Die Hard" was called "Building" or if "Snakes on a Plane" was called, well, "Snakes on a Plane."

Moniker aside, "Plane" is a solid, down the middle action thriller that works because of its solid, down the middle approach. It's a simple story, well told with grounded performances and a handful of breathtaking set pieces. Action movies with much fancier titles would be lucky to be so economic in their delivery.

Gerard Butler and Mike Colter in "Plane."

Gerard Butler, in gruff everyman mode — Butler likely won the coin toss for the role between him and Liam Neeson — stars as Brodie Torrance, a pilot for Trailblazer airlines who's flying from Singapore to Tokyo on New Year's Eve. It's a light flight, with less than 20 passengers, but Brodie gets a surprise when one of the passengers is Louis Gaspare ("Luke Cage's" Mike Colter), a convict being extradited after a homicide conviction 15 years prior. That adds a little bit of spice to an otherwise routine flight.

Screenwriters J.P. Davis and Charles Cumming ease into the story and establish Brodie's character and his place in the world. He's a chipper guy who loves his job and is trying to get home to his daughter, who lives in Los Angeles, and who also has to deal with cost-cutting corporate bosses who want more with less. Brodie's told to fly through a storm that gives him pause in order to save time and fuel.

So it's wheels up and it's not long before the plane of the title is flying through a wicked storm that causes all sorts of turbulence issues. It gets worse: the airliner is struck by lighting and loses all electricity, and Brodie is forced to make an emergency landing, luckily on land, but not so luckily on an island in Sulu, where armed militias don't take kindly to strangers.

"Plane's" passengers — an uptight male, a pair of influencer types, a handful of crew members — look to Brodie for leadership, and it just so happens Our Guy is pretty handy with a machine gun. He also has to figure out what to do with Louis, and he decides to remove his handcuffs and enlist his help, much to the chagrin of some of the passengers.

Director Jean-François Richet, who helmed the similarly straightforward and effective Mel Gibson thriller "Blood Father" as well as the "Assault on Precinct 13" remake, sets these pieces in motion and lets things rip, adding in a team of mercenaries sent to extract the good guys and a boardroom full of corporate problem solvers (including familiar faces Tony Goldwyn and Paul Ben-Victor) back in New York. The action is crisp and engaging — a gunfight late in the proceedings has a surprising amount of kick — as the stakes remain just plausible enough to stay within reason.

Sections of the movie recall "Die Hard 2" in the best way possible, as "Plane" delivers thrills and excitement that belie its generic title. Would it be as sweet by any other name? Leave that for the marketers to decide. Plain and simple, "Plane" gets the job done.

'Plane'

GRADE: B

Rated R: for violence and language

Running time: 107 minutes

In theaters

agraham@detroitnews.com

@grahamorama