Gerard Butler. Mike Colter. Airplane.
Photo: Kenneth Rexach/Lionsgate

Airplane it’s a movie for your lizard brain, the part of you that craves basic sensations. The part that expresses itself in grunts. The part that wants to eagerly kick a movie screen while muttering “Airplane …” This is a good thing. The highest compliment I can pay Gerard Butler’s new action movie is that it lives up to the conceptual purity of its title.

Over the years Butler has become competent in playing the exceptional Average Joes: rugged, relatable Everymen thrust into extraordinary circumstances that require dramatic feats of skill and bravery. This is a guy enshrined in American movies. Back when everyone was trying to be Bruce Willis, he was annoyingly omnipresent, but our current uber-The hijacked cinematic landscape is of less and less use for such raggedy heroes. This, of course, adds to our affection. These men have taken on a nostalgic sheen, and Butler in particular has become something of an avatar for people the way action movies used to be. When he’s on screen, you can taste stale coffee and sweat. He is the demoted Secret Service agent (in the White House invasion movie Olympus has fallen); the estranged father trying to make things right (in the comet disaster epic greenland); the newly promoted and not-ready-for-prime-time submarine commander (in the maritime action film Hunter Killer). In Airplane, he is Captain Brodie Torrance, a middle-aged single father and pilot caught flying a route from Singapore to Tokyo on New Year’s Eve for the low-cost airline Trailblazer. He lost his place on the most luxurious airlines, we learned, after beating up an abusive passenger.

There are only 14 travelers on this particular flight, which heightens the sense that Torrance is a man out of step with the times: he can fly the damn plane, but no one wants to ride it. And because the flight has so few passengers, the Trailblazer powers that be refuse to let Torrance fly around a nasty-looking storm looming his way, as the additional fuel required would cost too much. So you fly right into it and, after a harrowing sequence that serves as a reminder to never, ever unbuckle your seatbelt during turbulence, you’re forced to make an emergency landing on an island in the Sulu Archipelago. a lawless area of ​​the Philippines. run by what Torrance’s co-pilot (Yoson An) calls “separatists and criminals.” As Torrance and the surviving passengers try to figure out how to let the world know where they are, they become the target of a local militia that likes to kidnap foreigners and hold them for ransom while threatening to kill them.

much of Airplane It doesn’t really take place on a plane, but there’s little cause for alarm. The on-ground events maintain the raw, basic pleasures of the opening premise. French director Jean-François Richet has made a career of rated, well-acted action movies (he made the stylish 2005 remake of Assault on Police Station 13, starring Laurence Fishburne and Ethan Hawke, and the 2008 real-life two-part French crime epic mesrin, starring Vincent Cassel) and allows the characters just enough shading to keep things moving. We learn that Torrance is a proud Scotsman who once served in the Royal Air Force of Great Britain, and we know that he can hold his own against him, although he chokes a bit after the first kill of him on the island.

Fortunately, one of the passengers is Louis Gaspare (Mike Colter), who was being extradited to the US for manslaughter when the plane crashed. Torrance finds himself in the rare situation where having a killer as a partner can come in handy. Colter, perhaps best known as the star of the Marvel series. luke cage, he is soft-spoken and has a calm physique that makes a good match for Butler; his Gaspare looks like a man who could, at any given moment, give you a quiet laugh or a death blow. His developing relationship with Torrance is compelling and handled without much fuss: all sweaty stars, brief exchanges, and the occasional knowing smile between two hunky guys in a temporary marriage of convenience who grow to respect each other (and kill each other together).

Whenever Airplane Following Torrance, Gaspare and the other passengers, he has a streamlined confidence that keeps the action interesting and suspenseful. How the hell are these people going to survive this ordeal? Will Gaspare abandon Torrance and the others? How is someone going to get off this island with their head still attached to their neck? The local militia leader, the ruthless Datu Junmar (Evan Dane Taylor), manifests no political goals or ideology. He only wants hostages and money, and he doesn’t seem shy about making good on a promise to kill the prisoners, or his own men, if he doesn’t get his way. Things get a little more complicated each time the film returns to Trailblazer’s New York headquarters, where a crisis management expert (Tony Goldwyn) organizes an elaborate rescue mission involving a heavily armed group of international mercenaries. Such developments feel like they belong in a bigger movie, one with a broader scope; a bigger and more famous cast; and shinier, more metallic Bruckheimerian production values. Not into some dirty, dirty action actor named Airplane.

So it’s a good thing Richet understands that any thrills this movie can provide will be cheap. Fill the picture of them: beefy, one-shot beatings, beheadings, stabbings, heads smashed in with giant hammers. The bad guys are cloaked in machine gun bullets so powerful their dead bodies ricochet off cars. There is at least one spectacular case of vehicular assault.

It’s okay to enjoy these things when they’re done with such a sincere desire to entertain. The violence is visceral and presented with enough authenticity to make you cringe. The context, however, is unreal enough that you don’t have to think about it too much. You weren’t supposed to be thinking anyway. Airplane.

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