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Nathan Weinbender reviews " Plane"

You’ve gotta admire a movie that has the audacity to call itself Plane. No articles, no modifiers. Simply Plane. It’s a reflection of the movie’s ruthless efficiency: It doesn’t really have time to mess around, a brisk, 100-minute actioner that’s half mid-air thriller, half violent jungle adventure.

That it stars Gerard Butler should tell you everything you need to know. He plays a pilot named Brodie Torrance who, as the movie begins, is flying out of Singapore on New Year’s Eve. It’s a requirement of movies like this that our hero has a history of throwing punches at unruly passengers, as well as a teenage daughter who is waiting for him back home and who will spend most of the movie staring helplessly at screens and answering frantic phone calls.

Because it’s a holiday, Capt. Brodie’s flight is mostly empty. But amongst the smattering of passengers is a convicted murderer played by Mike Colter from Luke Cage, who is being extradited from one prison to another.

No sooner has the beverage service gone through that the plane heads straight into a storm and is struck by lightning, which takes out all of its electrical equipment. The descent sequence is effective and tense — let’s just say no major airline will be clamoring for this to be an in-flight entertainment option. Torrance and his copilot manage to get the plane to nearby land. That’s the good news. The bad news is it’s an island in the Philippines that’s run by violent separatists and revolutionaries.

You know what’s about to happen. The militants will find their way to the downed plane and hold the passengers as political prisoners. The convict will be released from his shackles, only to become the most valuable member of the party. And he and Torrance, who both have military backgrounds, will venture into the jungle in an attempt to bring the hostages to safety.

A better, more ambitious film might have given us a colorful cast of characters, like the old disaster movies did, but Plane has no interest in the passengers. They’re basically glorified extras. As if to compensate, the movie gives us several scenes of Tony Goldwyn as a crisis management lawyer and Paul Ben-Victor as the airline’s spokesman barking orders at one another in a boardroom somewhere, while even more extras look on solemnly.

Plane was directed by Jean-François Richet, who also made the 2005 remake of John Carpenter’s Assault on Precinct 13, another movie about good guys teaming up with bad guys to take down even badder guys. It’s also reminiscent of that spate of plane-centric thrillers that came out in the ’90s — remember Passenger 57 and Executive Decision? — and of the quickie genre fare released in the ’80s by defunct exploitation studio Canon. In fact, I can imagine a version of this film made 35 years ago starring Chuck Norris as either the hero pilot or the prisoner in chains.

Those comparisons will either recommend the movie to you or convince you to steer clear of it. Plane is like a ride in economy class on a budget airline — no frills, a little turbulence and surly service, but you get to where you’re going quickly and cheaply enough.

Nathan Weinbender is a film critic and one of the regular co-hosts for Spokane Public Radio’s “Movies 101” heard Friday evenings at 6:30 here on KPBX.