Plane review: Gerard Butler's air travel thriller is action movie comfort

You get what you pay for in to-the-point transportation nightmare Plane.

Gerard Butler and Mike Colter in Plane
(Image: © Lionsgate)

What to Watch Verdict

Plane is an unpretentious and dependable action film that might not be a first-class experience, but gets audiences from point A to point B with minimal hiccups.

Pros

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    Gerard Butler knows how to command movies like Plane

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    Mike Colter is a fine partner

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    You're in, you're out, you're happy

Cons

  • -

    Works better with your analytic brain turned off

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    What you see is all you get

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    Characters are largely undefined stereotypes

Jean-François Richet’s Plane is everything you expect from a January Gerard Butler vehicle with a one-word generic title. That's not necessarily a takedown — you're talking to a Gamer and Law Abiding Citizen defender. Filmmaker Jaume Collet-Serra teamed with Liam Neeson on similar better-than-expected transportation actioners Non-Stop and The Commuter, proving what can be accomplished in transit. You get what you signed up for with Plane, and that's travel terror mixed with battle sequences where Butler kicks butt so he can see his daughter again. In Butler we trust to deliver straightforward, unpretentious thrills to the most moderate levels of entertainment.

Mr. Butler stars as Scottish ex-military pilot Brodie Torrance, now an overnight captain for Trailblazer airlines, enduring less desirable routes. Disaster strikes when Brodie is instructed to fly his 14 passengers and additional crew through a nasty storm that forces an emergency landing on a war-torn island. The Philippines government won't send a rescue for 24 hours, so Brodie frees onboard FBI prisoner Louis Gaspare (Mike Colter) — an accused murderer — to help protect the remaining survivors against guerrilla militants. You know, typical red-eye struggles.

Writers Charles Cumming and J.P. Davis don't overcomplicate a single detail. The plane takes flight, the plane is struck by lightning, the plane almost crashes, the plane and the plane's passengers require protection. Richet focuses on the intensity of moments that don't need further double-crosses, cheap emotional ploys or other distractions. 

Plane somehow finds a sweet spot where there's enough embellishment to entice viewers without going as far as another Butler movie, Geostorm. If we're going by Goldilocks classifications, somehow Plane feels just right as an absurd action scenario.

Then again, Plane is conceptually ridiculous and plays by its own rules without a modicum of realism. If you're not down with ignoring black boxes or Brodie's insanely good luck, there's not much this point-and-shoot flyover can offer. Questionable bullet holes appear in bodies without any entry points through the plane and everything happens so speedily it's hard to feel anything more than pulpy entertainment. 

Plane is predictable down to Butler playing another hero with a deceased wife he still cherishes in memory and a set of skills that can overthrow an entire rebel base camp. Nameless mercenaries, fidgeting with mechanical parts until things magically work, a hilarious final boss death sequence — you need to switch your brain off to achieve the right mindset.

Supporting performances serve their purposes like non-playable characters in a video game. Recognizable "That Guy" faces from Paul Ben-Victor as Trailblazer official Hampton to Tony Goldwyn as crisis management fixer Scarsdale are defined by their butting heads forced to make hard decisions around a boardroom table. Yoson An is the co-pilot with a loving family you want to see survive, Daniella Pineda is the lead stewardess who holds vital information and Joey Slotnick is the ornery passenger you don't mind seeing executed if there has to be a sacrifice. Everyone works within their character designations and no one stands out because this is Butler and Colter's show, who exhibit special ops chemistry as a saving grace time after time.

Plane does its job as a January release — gets butts in seats and delivers as advertised. Green screen cockpit cinematography isn't Top Gun: Maverick worthy, but dangerously tense landing sequences get the blood pumping with vigor. Gerard Butler doesn't redefine the mid-tier action blockbuster but ensures audiences are satisfied with their serviceable experience like Southwest (in their prime). 

Maybe Plane won’t be discussed in end-of-year recaps next December, but that doesn't diminish its importance as a chaotic comfort flick for thrillseekers. Not every flight can be a first-class experience, just like not every movie can be the next five-star miracle — all we can hope for is that the more modest options are as steady and committed as Plane.

Plane releases in US theaters on January 13, January 27 in the UK.

Matt Donato is a Rotten Tomatoes approved film critic who stays up too late typing words for What To Watch, IGN, Paste, Bloody Disgusting, Fangoria and countless other publications. He is a member of Critics Choice and co-hosts a weekly livestream with Perri Nemiroff called the Merri Hour. You probably shouldn't feed him after midnight, just to be safe.