REASON: When a plane is forced to make an emergency landing on an island run by heavily armed rebels, the heroic captain (Gerard Butler) must rely on an unlikely ally to save the passengers – a convicted murderer (Mike Colter) who was carried on the flight .

REVIEW: January used to be considered a dump month – a time when studios could burn off all their less beloved product. But in the age of event films and tent poles, attitudes have changed. While the month used to be a dead zone in terms of quality, it has also become a fertile zone for studios to release genre films, with lower budget horror and action films often making solid profits as they face little competition for these multiplex bucks. Take e.g. M3GAN’s massive opening last weekend. As such, Lionsgate has decided to release their latest Gerard Butler action film, Airplane, whose trailer quickly went viral back in the fall thanks to the stark simplicity of the premise. It looks like the kind of movie that delivers exactly what it promises, and having caught the movie myself, I can confirm that Airplane is a perfect example of a B-action movie done well.

In it, Gerard Butler plays a disgraced pilot named Brodie Torrence who, reduced to working holiday, runs out of Singapore after assaulting a drunken passenger who was rough with some flight attendants. It’s New Year’s Eve and he’s ready to fly what he thinks will be a milky way, only for the plane to be accidentally taken into a storm, leading to an emergency landing on Jolo, a remote island in the Philippines ruled by anti-government militias. As he searches for help, his passengers are taken hostage and Brodie becomes determined to rescue them or at least keep them alive until they are extracted. Fortunately, he has some unexpected help in Mike Colter’s Louis Gaspare, a convicted murderer who was transported on the plane but is determined to redeem himself by helping Torrence and the passengers.

In the past, Gerard Butler’s films have typically done well when they have presented him as a man of action, with Olympus has fallen trilogy, Cave of Thieves and Greenland all doing a pretty decent business. Airplane is perfectly crafted to play to all his strengths, playing a decent everyman who might not be the killing machine another action hero would be – making him a more compelling lead. He’s presented as a veteran, which means he can handle himself, but he’s the kind of lead that a guy like Paul Newman, Steve McQueen or Charlton Heston could have played in a seventies disaster movie. He gets things done, but is not a typical action hero. He’s vulnerable, which makes him an excellent alternative to guys like The Rock, Vin Diesel or Jason Statham, who are notoriously unwilling to take their candy on the screen. At one point in the film, Butler gets into a vicious fight with a militia member, and he fights like a guy desperately trying to survive instead of a superhero. The cool thing about a character like this is that even though you know – deep down – he’s going to pull through, he gets the crap thrown out of him repeatedly and wins through ingenuity and courage rather than guts.

It should also be noted that Butler must be pretty safe because he allows teammate Mike Colter to get a fair share of the heroics. Colter is younger and stronger, and it’s nice to see a guy like Butler let an up-and-coming have their time to shine, and Colter is great in the role. His Louis Gaspare is a mysterious killer with a noble streak and I like that he is presented as unreservedly heroic once the mayhem starts. You never think he’ll betray Butler – you know he’s a hero. Was Airplane launching a mid-level franchise, if they did a sequel, a logical way to do it would be to focus on Colter, where he’s shown to be a traveling adventurer who’s always one step ahead of the law.

In addition to the two dynamic leads, Airplane is extremely well directed by Jean-Francois Richet, who made the underrated Assault on area 13 remake and the excellent Mel Gibson vehicle, Blood Father, but also a French crime masterpiece in two parts, Mesrine, starring Vincent Cassel. The two films Killer instinct and Public Enemy Number 1, was my favorite movie of 2008 and is dying to be discovered by action fans. He conducts Airplane in a tight, efficient manner, keeping the pace tight and the action moving. It runs a meager 107 minutes, and the momentum never lets up for a second. The film’s premise is good, as it is not only reminiscent of 70s disaster films such as Airport 1975, Skyjacked and The Cassandra Junction but also a really cool horror thriller from the 30s called Five came back, which is a gem also worth discovering. The supporting cast is equally effective, with Tony Goldwyn as the airline fixer who tries to pull the passengers out – it’s a treat for us to see a corporate man who isn’t portrayed as a complete sociopath and isn’t trying to cover up the crash. Daniella Pineda from Cowboy Bebop plays the top flight attendant, and it’s a testament to the film’s efficiency and lack of cheese that there’s no convoluted romance between her and Butler. In the film, everyone has only one goal – to survive, and Airplane is a solid throwback in that it’s reminiscent of nineties movies that didn’t get bogged down in trying to be all things to all people.

While Airplane is certainly not a blockbuster tentpole, it’s actually a lot more entertaining than most movies I’ve seen recently that had three or four times the budget. It’s just one hell of a solid time in theaters, and it ranks as one of Butler’s best all-around action movies. It’s nice to see an old school action star who still has the chops and lack of vanity to get these movies right.

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