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Plane review – Gerard Butler thriller gets a little bumpy but mostly soars

Wider in scope than its amusingly direct title suggests, Jean-Francois Richet's muscular actioner is thinly written but exciting

It’s New Year’s Eve and Scottish commercial pilot Captain Brodie Torrance (Gerard Butler) is on his last flight of the year with a sparsely populated plane, just waiting to get home to his daughter. To this easy mix, though, is added a complication – a murderous convict, the imposing Louis Gaspare (Mike Colter), being extradited is suddenly added to Brodie’s manifest. What could possibly go wrong? Well, in Jean-Francois Richet’s brusquely enjoyable Plane, not what you’d expect from that premise. Instead of any escaped prisoner or hijacking hijinks, Brodie’s plane is downed by a terrible storm over the Philippines, landing him, Gaspare, his crew, and his passengers on a lawless separatist island with no help coming.

Indeed, given its already much-meme’d title, Plane doesn’t spend an inordinate amount of time on a plane. Rather, it hands the focus over to Brodie and Gaspare (who, surprise surprise, is actually a rather honourable combat veteran) as they buddy up and attempt to get the passengers home after a violent local gang kidnaps them. It’s a plot that just keeps expanding its scope and complexity (there’s a whole subplot back in America as the airline hires mercenaries to try and find Brodie et al) but still zips by thanks to its amusingly violent action and a dependable central performance from Butler.

He’s hardly working with the most original material in the world – Plane never met a cliché it didn’t want to take on board – and plenty of the more emotional dialogue scenes are pretty tin-eared, but Butler knows by now how to ground an absurd action thriller. He’s convincing as a hero, but also vulnerable, Brodie seeming genuinely traumatised by a lot of the violence he sees and partakes in, far from a gung-ho “kill ‘em all” action man. That position falls more to Gaspare, whose military experience and conditioning proves far superior to Brodie’s more cursory, and slightly forgotten, RAF training.

Colter successfully convinces as a deadly threat whenever he’s in action, though his performance between fights is rather less persuasive. Pretty much the entire supporting cast, in fact, is poor; thinly written and badly acted, all fitting into the broadest archetypes possible. This isn’t always a terrible thing – the two entitled and shouty bald white guys amongst the passengers make for funny punching bags – but it does mean the more earnest moments mostly land with a clang whenever Brodie is interacting with anyone else.

To his credit, though, Richet knows that these scenes are just the filler necessary to get Butler into hairy situations full of guns, car chases, and using a plane’s landing gear as an offensive weapon, and he marshals the carnage with muscularity and skill. Shootouts have some real weight to them, and the punishing heat and humidity of the island hangs heavy over the raw and sweaty hand-to-hand fights, which are well-choreographed and nicely unglamorous. It does all end with a bit of a whimper, but that’s a price worth paying for a film of this ilk that knows exactly how to not wear out its welcome. By this point, Gerard Butler is pretty much a genre unto himself and, if that’s a genre you’re happy to buy into, Plane is one of the most entertaining examples of it.

Plane is released in UK cinemas on 27 January.

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