It’s somehow comforting to know that even as cable channels are fading to obscurity with the rise of streaming services, movie studios are still making films whose future lies on basic cable even before the first ticket is sold.

The marginally violent, action-adventure film is a unique sub-genre that typically centers around Jason Statham, Mel Gibson, Liam Neeson or, on occasion, Sylvester Stallone and it’s a film easily summed up in a quick elevator pitch that doesn’t require much plot, just excuses for action sequences.

January is usually the best time of year to catch these middling at best movies and 2023’s first offering is exactly what one might expect from a lazily titled one word adventure film like Plane.

But thanks to a new twist on a tired subgenre, some inventive action and surprisingly grounded performances, Plane isn’t terrible.

The film’s premise definitely has to be overcome or at least shrugged off a bit for some viewers to take a chance on enjoying.

Gerard Butler stars as Captain Brodie Torrance, piloting a last-minute redeye across the South China Sea when weather forces him to ground the titular plane on a remote island occupied by violent separatists. With an unlikely ally, Torrance must get everyone out alive.

Butler isn’t wowing audiences with newfound range as Brodie, but there is an affable charm to his performance early in the film that helps endear him to the audience and make him the ideal candidate to lead everyone to safety. The veteran action star also does a great job in balancing Brodie’s wild emotions against complete inexperience in dangerous settings.

Conversely, Mike Colter revels in the brooding, silent killer role with an overbearing physicality. His Louis Gaspare is woefully underwritten by screenwriters J.P. Davis and Charles Cumming and it’s clear that director Jean-François Richet only views Louis as a vehicle for violence and mayhem, but Colter maintains a stoic, yet purposeful demeanor that could be star-making in the right action role.

Without a doubt, Plane is a fatally flawed action movie.

The plot is convoluted even by genre standards and the dialogue doesn’t leave much to write home about. There isn’t enough depth for the film to stand on its own as a danger in the sky movie or as a hunted by warlords movie, but the two unlikely halves work fluidly on a flimsy premise.

Where Plane excels as a January popcorn flick are in its numerous set pieces, which evoke better films yet are exceedingly entertaining and lift the overall watchability of Richet’s film exponentially.

Aerial sequences are engaging because Richet maximizes the tension by always having the camera moving and tightly focused on the actors. There’s a heightened sense of uncertainty in a rather easy to predict film as a result of the in-flight scenes which carries over nicely to the film’s second half on the island.

Richet steals generously from a wide array of films like Sully to Rambo to Thirteen Hours to No Escape in order to craft an amalgamation of disparate parts that casual audiences will remember after leaving the theater.

Bullets fly with reckless abandon, but Richet does his best work showcasing the brutality of his action during hand-to-hand combat. This is especially true of an exchange between Butler’s Brodie and a random henchman who sneaks up on him, where Butler can showcase Brodie’s inexperience as a fighter but his determination to live for his daughter.

While it’s certain to live on for much of 2023 as that film people might casually watch in the background at home doing chores, Plane has some decent enough set pieces and mindless entertainment that cinephiles looking for popcorn escapism might find worthwhile in a theatrical setting.

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