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With no press screenings yet a year’s worth of hype, the Movie With the Name threatened to be a throwaway Boat to Heaven—which is what star Samuel L. Jackson said the producers might as well call the film if they changed its title to the snooze-worthy Pacific Air Flight 121 as intended. So the brilliantly stupid Snakes on a Plane nom de crap stayed put, and surprisingly, it’s a thriller so entertaining that it makes recent disaster flicks such as Poseidon look like the real trash. Similar in concept to Scream, SoaP consciously mocks the we’re-all-going-to-die formula of its genre while painting the numbers too cleverly to be exiled to so-bad-it’s-good territory. The setup, if anyone cares, involves Sean (Nathan Phillips), a murder witness whom a sorta-scary Agent Flynn (Jackson) persuades to testify. Flynn escorts Sean out of Hawaii and into protective custody on a flying machine that the creative killer, despite extensive security precautions, has rigged with crates of serpents and leis sprayed with snake-agitating pheromones. Directed by Final Destination 2’s David R. Ellis and written by John Heffernan and Sebastian Gutierrez, with (widely reported) input from Web-boarding boosters and a (not so widely reported) resemblance to a 1998 Saturday Night Live skit, SoaP succeeds because its hamming is selective. The stereotypes, such as a flight attendant on her last day (Julianna Margulies), a princess carrying a Chihuahua (Rachel Blanchard), and a better-than-thou prick who huffs about everything (Gerard Plunkett), are unabashed, and the snake-o-vision, sort of like looking through unfocused night-vision goggles, is cheesy. But the acting is fine (Jackson hasn’t been as pitch-perfect tempestuous since Pulp Fiction) and the humor plentiful (watching a snake get peed on is unexpectedly hilarious). Best, the filmmakers kept in mind that SoaP, title be damned, is meant to tense you up like a hug from a boa constrictor; considering the action starts early, its stress level remains impressively consistent until the end. Drop the Plan 9 predictions and enjoy every motherfuckin’ minute of Snakes on a Plane.

—Tricia Olszewski