Gerard Butler (L) and Mike Colter star in "Plane." Photo courtesy of Lionsgate
LOS ANGELES, Jan. 11 (UPI) -- Plane, in theaters Friday, is a thrilling way to start the new year at the movies. With a simple, elemental conflict, Plane delivers all the action it promises.
Brodie Torrance (Gerard Butler) plans a New Year's Eve flight from Singapore to Tokyo. A storm causes electrical failure, which forces Brodie to make an emergency landing on an island in the Philippines.
Brodie and his crew and passengers find themselves in a frying pan/fryer situation, as the island is populated by a separatist militia. Brodie must alert the airline to send help while keeping the survivors safe from new threats.
The initial storm scene is harrowing because Brodie is a competent pilot doing his best to navigate elements out of his control. The film's first deaths are disturbing injuries caused by the turbulence.
Part of Plane is a survival adventure. Brodie explains why the plane is not habitable due to the region's heat, so those aboard have to build a new shelter and ration food and supplies.
It's not long before some of the separatists find Brodie. Plane has previously shown Brodie handling a rowdy passenger, so he can defend himself, but it's not like he's a special forces commando.
The action of Plane is filmed clearly. The camera even rolls on its side with Brodie to keep him and his opponent in the frame.
The camera does get increasingly more frenetic toward the climax, but still holds shots long enough to show the viewer what is happening. Some of Butler's other action movies, like Angel Has Fallen and Gamer, have been too shaky and choppy to engender the desired excitement.
Plane is an R-rated action movie that earns the rating. The separatists kill innocent people brutally, but die even more graphically when the heroes turn the tables on them.
Brodie isn't a lone Rambo or John McClane. His main ally is Louis Gaspare (Mike Colter), a convict who was being transferred on the flight.
Gaspare's backstory is vague. Suffice it to say he was likely innocent and railroaded by the system.
That still means he's not eager to return to the society that oppressed him, so that gives Gaspare just enough uneasy tension with Brodie.
Brodie makes lame pilot jokes before takeoff, so when he admits the actual dangers to the passengers, it conveys the gravitas of the situation.
The airline sends a team of private mercenaries to help, too, but they rightfully play second fiddle. It's the Brodie and Gaspare show, while the passengers and crew members get just enough backstory so the audience doesn't want to see anything bad happen to them.
Still, not everyone makes it. Some innocent characters have to be sacrificed for the sake of the others' escape.
Militia leader Datu (Evan Dane Taylor) seems to have an endless supply of men, which serves a dual function. It makes escaping this army more difficult and also provides more deserving villains to dispatch in satisfying ways.
Survival is a primal instinct. With the plane crash and the armed militia, there are two threats to the characters' survival.
Plane doesn't overcomplicate the plot because the basic threat is exciting enough. The film just takes it seriously to craft a hard-hitting action movie.
Fred Topel, who attended film school at Ithaca College, is a UPI entertainment writer based in Los Angeles. He has been a professional film critic since 1999, a Rotten Tomatoes critic since 2001 and a member of the Television Critics Association since 2012. Read more of his work in Entertainment.