Grounded action keeps 'Plane' on course

Katie Walsh
Tribune News Service

The villains of the 2022 holiday season were the airlines, so it’s an apt moment for the Gerard Butler action vehicle “Plane” to take flight. The inciting incident involves a cost-cutting safety checker at Trailblazer Airlines insisting that Captain Brodie Torrance (Butler) pilot through a storm instead of around it in order to save fuel during a New Year’s flight from Singapore to Tokyo. Of course, since this is a Gerard Butler action film, the passengers on Trailblazer Flight 119 don’t end up stranded for days in an airport but rather fighting for their lives on a remote island in the Philippines ruled by a separatist militia whose primary source of income is hostages.

Not to worry though, because Butler’s Brodie isn’t your average airline pilot, he’s an airline pilot who can kill bad guys with his bare hands. Plus, has backup in the form of Mike Colter, and the two actors make a fine, fun and appealingly masculine pair in “Plane.”

Consider this meet cute: Brodie Torrance is a widowed former Royal Air Force pilot stuck flying long-haul budget flights thanks to a viral video in which he put down an unruly passenger with a choke hold (his signature move, as we’ll come to find out). Louis Gaspare (Colter) is a convicted murderer who has been on the lam for 15 years, now being extradited from Bali to the United States. When Louis ends up on Brodie’s flight, sparks fly (from machine gun fire) as they battle the aforementioned separatist militia to save the passengers and get Brodie back to his daughter Daniela (Haleigh Hekking) in Hawaii.

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Jean-Francois Richet’s “Plane” is as efficient, economical and effective as its title, which is a good one, actually — clear, descriptive, communicates what the film is about. The characterization in the screenplay by Charles Cumming and J.P. Davis is lean to the point of scanty, but we’re given just enough to suffice, and any more would be overkill.

Much like the aircraft itself for the majority of “Plane,” this taut thriller remains grounded and gritty, and once we’re on land, Puerto Rico — subbing for the Philippines — offers a sense of texture and realism to the humid setting. Richet strings the tension methodically, alternating with bursts of chaotic violence, showing us that Brodie is capable of both method and madness. Sometimes it’s a carefully orchestrated and silent extraction of hostages, sometimes it’s a brutal, bruising brawl as Brodie wrestles an assailant into submission, captured in a single handheld take. Butler’s fighting style is similar to the film’s: brawny, unshowy, effectual and explosive only when necessary.

Mike Colter, left, and Gerard Butler star in "Plane." The movie opens Thursday at Regal West Manchester, Queensgate Movies 13 and Hanover Movies 16.

Far away from the steamy Filipino jungles, we see the inner workings of the Trailblazer war room, headed up by Tony Goldwyn in full hambone mode as crisis manager David Scarsdale, bossing around the top exec (Paul Ben-Victor) and calling in the mercs. With Butler’s stoic heroism, plus the behind-the-scenes corporate jockeying, “Plane” feels like the action-thriller version of “Sully” with a nod toward Tobias Lindholm’s “A Hijacking,” but without the bleak condemnation of a corporate culture that negotiates the price of human lives.

The villains on the ground are a group of bloodthirsty rebels with great hair, and the leader, Junmar (Evan Dane Taylor) is so cool, you almost want to root for him (considering they crashed onto his island), but there is, of course, the murdering of innocent hostages. However, please don’t expect any political nuance or social commentary out of “Plane.” If you go into it expecting nothing more than to enjoy watching Butler sweatily manhandle some bad guys while Colter sweatily manhandles him, you’ll be more than satisfied with the ride “Plane” offers — a well-executed hunk of pulpy entertainment.‘PLANE’2.5 stars (out of 4)Rated: R (for violence and language)Running time: 1:47How to watch: In theaters Friday