RIORI Vol 3, Installment 44: David R Ellis’ “Snakes On A Plane” (2006)

Snakes on a Plane

The Players…

Samuel L Jackson, Julianna Marguiles, Nathan Phillips, Bobby Cannavale, Flex Alexander and Todd Louiso, with Sunny Mabrey, Kenan Thompson, Rachel Blanchard and David Koechner.

The Story…

After witnessing a brutal gangland hit, Sean Jones has got to get out of Hawaii and back to the mainland to testify. But gangsters being a prickly bunch wouldn’t just let Jones waltz back to LA, so FBI special agent Neville Flynn lends his protection.

Again, angry gangsters can be tenacious in making people “disappear,” even those secured on a one-way flight. But why use guns, thugs and even hijacking to take out the mark when one can take more subtle approach?

Like using poison.

The Rant…

Okay. Quick quiz: who out there knows what a “cult film” is?

*a few raised hands, a few shrugs and definitely a few snores*

You. In the back with the half-empty sack of Funyuns. You have bright eyes.

Um, okay. A documentary on the Jonestown Massacre counts. I guess.

Let me steer you right, or at least into my web, little fly. The kind of cult film I’m talking about is a movie that was usually a poor performer at the multiplex for being either to esoteric in story or too left of center to attract a wide, mainstream audience. Most of these movies tank, but have that je ne sais quoi that gradually draws viewers into its vortex over time. Thank home video, late night HBO and the junk Netflix streams for pennies. Such movies aren’t necessarily bad per se, but definitely steering along the road less travelled. Some are just so odd, so half-baked, so damned stubborn that the filmmakers must have had an extra chromosome floating around in their muse.

And every year more folks heed the clarion call. A vast, quiet flock (well, mostly quiet. You can’t watch Monty Python And The Holy Grail with dweebs who just. Won’t. Stop. Quoting. The dialogue. Run away!) glom onto these kooky flicks and follow its story, actors, one-liners as gospel with all the reverence of a Benedictine monk. Or a soldier in the Kiss Army. One and the same, really. These fans have arcane knowledge about every aspect of their quarry. They’ve memorized the lines. They’ve deconstructed the plot eight ways to Sunday. Sometime Monday, too, just to be sure. They get something deep out of such movies. I ain’t talking pithy examinations of the human condition made flesh via celluloid. Something deep, life-altering, meaningful. Something like seeing the violence inherent in the system. Like being oppressed. Such film fiends are loonies.

*pause for effect*

Word of mouth. That’s how cult films are truly created. Sure, sure. The usual machinations are well in place whenever a director cuts their film. They know where it’s supposed to go. The final product, however…well, it just misses the mark. And then they roll the rock away from the cave and those who got the true message of the movie flitter into the night and harangue like-minded goofs with all the rapture of someone who just lost their virginity to a stranger in a bus station that reeked of Funyuns—

*cocked eyebrow*

—and would only accept Sacagawea dollars as payment for services. Or more Funyuns. Admit it. You’ve been there yourself. Drawn into a web of mystery, dangerous and foreign. Seeing a movie not meant to be popular, a moneymaker or even make much sense. Mulling it over to see its inner value, repeated viewings.

And eventually you loved it. You saw the light. It was a dark, sticky light to be sure, like the kind glowing from beneath Mr Funyuns’ red-shaded lamp (how he got the lamp to work in the bus station escapes me, too), but you saw the light. You began to obnoxiously quote Holy Grail (assh*les). You figured out why Brazil was titled Brazil. You agreed with Wooderson about them high school girls. You knew that that carpet really did tie the room together. You laughed at those who thought Snake was dead. You got it.

No one else did. And welcome to the club.

Cult. Have some Kool-Aid. One of us one of us one of us.

*obligatory beer can to the temple*

Thanks. Needed that. Moving on.

Here’s the rub: cult films are not designed to be so. They’re accidents. Almost stillborn at the box office, audiences unfound. They gotta gestate in the underverse of bootleg tapes/happenstance viewings/careful YouTube scouring/falling off a truck. They’re popularity is also made buoyant by geeks in high school whose interaction with the opposite sex happens with all the frequency of an Elvis sighting (the King’s working in a bait shop in Michigan with Tupac and Jim Morrison, BTW. Check out the movie). Cult films just happen; there is no formula. The plots and acting and styles are myriad.

*list time*

Movies like anything by Monty Python, Escape From New York, Time Bandits, The Big Lebowski (an anomaly, actually), Dazed And Confused, Pulp Fiction, even the original Star Wars trilogy and the magna mater of cult films The Rocky Horror Picture Show all bucked a trend (or perhaps started one). Be it floundering at the box office, receiving dodgy criticism and mostly shrugs or just being too obtuse and f*cking weird, all those titles gained fame and redemption by accident. Happy accident, much to the directors’ chagrin.

Still, consider this: Eddie And The Cruisers warranted a sequel thanks to heavy HBO rotation.

Even the dumpiest of films have an audience out there, waiting. Said hordes behind the rock, sniffing popcorn and programming Tromaville into their GPS units. They wait. Oh yes, they wait. They wait for the accident, like rubbernecking on the highway at rush hour. Check out the wreckage. We should film this! The accident!

That’s the key word in the endgame: accident. You can’t create a cult film on purpose. You can almost pay homage to such travesties with a tight budget, canned acting and an angular plot. But it has to be organic. Let the chips fall. No plot wheel could save you now. Let the best boy walk off the set. Set that model train on fire and hope the audience doesn’t notice it’s melting. Contract a marginally talentend band for the soundtrack (or even Philip Glass). Hell, create a matte painting of the Manhattan skyline denuded of electricity and hurl a Revell 747 at it. Cross your fingers.

Cult films just happen. They sprout like mushrooms. Can’t predict them. Can’t design them. No matter what you try.

That being said, guess what? Somebody tried…

Special agent Neville Flynn (Jackson) has had some tricky assignments before, but his latest is gonna be one for the ages. Sure, it’s just routine witness protection, but this poor schlub—one Sean Jones (Phillips) saw something that he sure shouldn’t have.

While vacationing in Hawaii, Jones’ bike ride ended in a gangland hit of the first degree. No one f*cks with Eddie Kim and Sean sees why. Namely baseball bats to the head. And chest. And nether regions. And Jones gets the f*ck away from the scene of the crime as fast as his bike can carry him.

So enter Flynn. Jones’ case is pretty straightforward. Get him on a plane. Fly to LA to have him testify. Keep the dope alive. And keep Kim’s thugs at bay. Simple, right?


Sure, mob toughs are a creative lot when it comes to waxing any poor fool who happens into their ill gotten games. Can’t leave any witnesses. Might gum up their works. But this Jones dope can do real damage, and TSA is rather crafty in doing the opposite of the gorillas. Getting a shooter on a plane is tricky. Sabotaging the plane is too messy. No. The best approach is to be sneaky. Nail the nabob via stealth. And a keen understanding of herpetology.

Not long after takeoff, something goes horribly awry. Flynn’s usually solid in his duty, but he’s never had to face a menace like this. A horde of venomous snakes tendril out of the cargo hold, wantonly biting and poisoning the passengers, searching to bring Jones down.

The heck?

The pilot’s disabled. The passengers are panicked. Jones is pissing his pants. Flynn, with all his experience in the field, is woefully unprepared for this calamity. All that’s left to do is ride this nightmare out, slapping the lion hard enough to make him stop roaring and rally any able body not bitten.

Security detail. It’s usually pretty routine…

It’s worth noting that Snakes On A Plane had quite a push into the multiplex by an internet campaign/baiting. Curious potential fans responded in kind, and the producers tweaked the movie to better serve the prospective audience. In other words: sweetening.

“Sweetening” is an old school term—often used for even older school TV programming—to tweak the production just enough to make a so-so plot into a story that’ll really grab ’em in Columbus. Sh*t like strategic laugh tracks, snazzier costuming and/or pandering to the lowest common denominator. Like canned chuckles and low cut dresses. Stuff like that.

The producers of Snakes stirred the pot/plot enough in response to internet furor. The end result? A manufactured cult movie.

Recall what I said about cult flicks being organic things. They just happen. There is no design. Once the beast is let loose xenogenesis takes over (refer to the I, Robot installment). What the would-be cult movie was morphs into what the cult movie becomes by what a weirdo audience embraces after the fact. After the fact. After the fact. One cannot create a cult film with any forethought or creative design. Did John Carpenter set out to create the ultimate bogeyman flick with Halloween? Maybe. More likely he was just following his muse. He wasn’t trying to break any banks. Chances are any deep meanings to Michael Myers killing spree were nary to be seen. He wasn’t trying to raise William Shatner’s profile any higher either, I’ll bet. Nope. Just wanted to make a scary movie and a love letter to Howard Hawks.

But the kids in purple robes and fresh kicks laid out on the beds and waited for the saucers to arrive nevertheless.

Folks have made the argument that Snakes was designed to be a cult film on purpose. The sweetening kinda leans towards the truth. This practice kind of ruins the whole “organic” aspect of a cult film. Sure, you can be coy. You can cage gimmicks from countless other “successful” cult flicks, even with respect. A nod here and there. You can try and be respectful, even tasteful. But you can’t jam a loose formula down collective throats and expect longevity. You can’t storm the gates of Heaven Can Wait. You gotta have patience that you didn’t know you needed.

Someone should’ve smacked director Ellis upside the head with this concept.

Like most of you goofballs, I find Sam Jackson amusing and often entertaining (I loved him in the movie where he played the angry black guy). He’s built up quite the CV portraying left of center characters, from a semi-cultured hitman to a comic book villian to a Jedi. He’s a cult figure in and of himself, really. It’s unfortunate that his cachet was shoehorned into Snakes. It’s almost as if his résumé preceded him here, and so the scene chewing and gesticulating felt called in. It was cartoonish, as was the rest of the cast’s antics.

Before I rail on here, I gotta jump in. On myself. Think that might defy some law of physics. Oh well, moving on.

That term cartoonish is rather apt in describing Snakes’, well, everything. If this was attempting to be a cult movie intentionally—respecting the whole offbeat and angular premise above—most culty flicks do have an aspect of Looney Tunes creeping at the fringes. Escape From New York plays like a comic book (which was eventually made into a series featuring the further exploits of Snake Plissken, who turned out to still not be dead). All the Monty Python films are the near sardonic musings of Lewis Carroll on an acid trip. Practically any effort from Hal Ashby is an exercise in bitter absurdity (Harold And Maude anyone?). What’s up with that, Doc?

But on the flipside, such films do have a serious muse driving them. Or at least a determined, demented,  mescal soaked urge. What gets filmed needs to be filmed, not what’s supposed to be filmed, no matter how calculated Kubrick’s catalogue appears to be. If their warped children come across as obtuse, quirky or just plain “what the f*ck?” a measure of organic growth insinuates itself. I mean, Blade Runner didn’t just happen—it was DOA at the box office and was a slow burn on video to raise it up as the masterpiece it is (not looking forward to the sequel BTW. Betcha neither is Ford, really)—but Ridley Scott had his vision, which varied significantly from Philip Dick’s source novel. The drive to follow a muse can make director and especially scenarists do some kooky things.

Kooky is not really a muse. You can’t tell the punchline before the joke. Either Snakes missed the bus, or made a mash-up of too many out-of-left-field tropes that bubbled up from a cult film “formula” The most obvious I spied with my little eye? Low production value. How’s that for a hint? Snakes resembles a made-for-TV movie on the USA Network circa 1991. Well aged cheeze. The characters are all ciphers, including Jackson as the rough-and-tumble FBI flatfoot. And as a companion to the goofball plot, there is much too much winking to the audience. Silliness as a form of build-up to the climax, which never ceases. It’s a night at Dave & Buster’s here: steady stream of stupid. Is everything here on purpose (yep)? The lines get kinda blurry. Either Snakes is a charming lark, a nod to low budget schlockfests following the filmmaker’s sinister urge, or a very deliberate send-up of such movies. Gets hard to tell. Too much winking? Stuff is amusing is stuff is amusing. We shouldn’t need cues.

I feel behooved now (am I using too many academic words, poop head?) to mention the Mel Brooks/Zucker Brothers aspect of stupid here. Talk about organic. And to specify my personal definition, organic means patient, if not in pace than in gestation. Slow and/or casual build-up. Sure, Mel’s antics are manic and often rapid-fire, but almost all his sh*t is deliberate, and I’ll don’t mean literally on purpose.

C’mon, fire. Walk with me.

Everything in Snakes tries to hard to be loose and freewheeling, and at the same time it’s also perplexing. Is it manufactured cult film via message boards, and wink and a nod to multiple Bruce Campbell vehicles or a big, stupid joke? To that I respond: right? Right? Reply hazy. Ask again later.

Wasn’t planning to go into the acting or tech aspects of Snakes here. On purpose. Not much to get into beyond the cult quandary. To me (surprise, surprise) that biz was the raison d’etre for my rant. Acting? Who cares? Stereotypes all around. Plot? A distillation of every cult signature this side of Ed Wood’s filmography. Technical sh*t? Right, sh*t. Snakes was formulaic, again maybe on purpose. What I took away was Snakes was either the most sly movie to come down the pike in tricking/sating the audience into cultish fun or willfully attempting to be the stupidest. Here’s a case of you gotta see it to come to your own conclusions. Shockingly enough, I already came to mine. Like I implied, pick your poison.

So to speak.

Anywho, what have we learned? Not much with all my rambling. Snakes‘ lo-fi ethos could either be a tribute to such flights of fancy like the rubbery Godzilla flicks or a blatant rip-off teetering into Sharknado territory. Quite the boondoggle. Pick a card, any card. I myself wished Snakes was clearly funnier and more daring overall minus the effort. That’s what matters in a movie called Snakes On A (Mother-f*ckin) Plane. We be tryin’ too hard here. I think. It’s more stupid than funny. Not organic, which is usually how “cult” films are borne, dig? Better by now, punk.

There. Said my peace. Any questions from the back?


Right. The bathrooms are on the left, next to the Bursar’s office. Quit hissing.

Class dismissed. Turn in your blue books. You may now return your stewardess to her upright position.

The Verdict…

Rent it or relent it? Relent it. Too much confusing stupid. Too much trying to be ironic without using the term “ironic” in a proper context. Too much injury to my sense of what evolves into a cult film. Not enough boobie shots. I have standards, y’know.

Stray Observations…

  • Something tells me Jackson took this role and acted later otherwise.
  • “This better be a matter of national security.”
  • A lot of Three Stooges action here. Almost redeeming.
  • “I almost beat the last level.”
  • There’s a possible nod to Airplane! here. Just sayin’.
  • “I can’t believe I’m saying this…” Might as well’ve been the tagline here.
  • Another possible nod to the those 70s disaster flicks. Well, we got the disaster part right with the final cut.
  • “I got bit too.”
  • “Snakes On Crack.” Better title.
  • “You’d be amazed at what a man can do with one hand.” Get it, America?
  • Every actor seemed deflated here. Especially that chick in the Mile High Club scene. And the little dog, too. Ha ha. I love being funny and clever.
  • “You too, huh?”

Next Installment…

Tiring of years with access to Wi-Fi, regular bathing and not having to forage, Jennifer Aniston (groan) and Paul Rudd (yay) develop a burning case of Wanderlust. Beyond this point there be hippies.

RIORI Vol 3, Installment 43: Chris Columbus’ “Bicentennial Man” (2000)

Bicentennial Man

The Players…

Robin Williams, Sam Neill, Embeth Davitz and Oliver Platt, with Wendy Crewson and Stephen Root.

The Story…

It takes a lifetime to grow up. The world is cluttered with social mores, cultural differences and how to manage your emotions. There’s a lot to learn, well beyond the lifespan of your average human.

But what about being not an average human? Heck, what about not being human at all? If your timeline was infinite, could you eventually become self-actualized?

Andrew’s curious enough to give it a try.

The Rant…

That whole “self-actulization” thing above is a popular psych term about trying to reach one’s full potential. The term was coined by one Kurt Goldstein, an organismic theorist (I have no clue what that is either) describing self-actualization as either/or expressing one’s creativity, quest for spiritual enlightenment, pursuit of knowledge, and the desire to give to society. Mother Teresa territory, that. In this day and age of rampant narcissism, damaging senses of entitilement and folks unable to put down the goddam smartphones, such an ideal is lost—or at least ignored—by most sentient creatures.

But wait! Help is on the way (if you read)!

In many bilious rants here I’ve screamed about how tech has been dehumanizing us as a culture. I’m not a Luddite though. Far from. I can’t leave my home without my iPhone, even if it’s out to check on the lawn (it’s still there. Google Maps located it). First thing in morning I scan the NOAA website for the next few day’s angry, unforgiving climate. I have every console Nintendo ever made, even the NX which drops next year (I have connections, meaning a running truck on the corner. Ask for “Slinky”). When technology is used wisely and in the proper hands, we’ve walked away with precision surgical robots, soldier-saving scout drones and Pandora. When misused…well, ask the residents of Hiroshima what’s up.

Seems to me the only folks who were truly sharp about the use and misuse of tech kept the actual gear at an arm’s length. I’m not talking rocket scientists. I’m talking science fiction writers. Old school guys like Clarke, Niven, Ellison, Dick and Asimov to name a few. They had their proverbial fingers all over cautionary tales of science run amok and how it could impact an unwitting humanity (“I’m sorry, Dave…”).

Asimov looms large over this select group of leftist, humanitarian scribes. His classic Robot trilogy is still the first and last word about the use and abuse of artificial people. Androids serving the whims of an often lazy human society and what might happen if yadda yadda yadda change the channel.

Asimov’s works have been translated to cinema once or twice. I skewered I, Robot here, ostensibly based on the books of the vaunted S/F writer. Big surprise the film didn’t really do the man’s ideas justice. His meditations on what it is to be human and what may happen when we give it away is still the gold standard on this philosophy, like I said. Instead we got a miscast Will Smith and low-light distillation under the microscope, all mashed up in the Hollywood Cuisinart.

Not that I wasn’t totally let down by Robot. It had some sharp action sequences up against a few sops to Asimov fans. Which in turn muddled movie proper. But enough about that. Instead, let’s just focus for a few microns on Asimov’s muse. Namely, his substituting robots as metaphor for the human condition. It’s often a lot easier—if not sacrosanct—to analyze humanity displaced with aliens, AI and/or androids. It’s like pointing out the naked emperor the other way around. Deconstructing the pettiness and frailties of humanity in mechanical avatars goes down a bit easier than a witch trial. Or an all-you-can-eat night at Old Country Buffet, right? Who’s with me?

*earbuds being jammed into skulls*

So you don’t care for the cornbread stuffing. Whatevs. Still, it’s a lot more fun and chewy to ask what it is to be human without actually being human. Think about that. If you were an android, you’d never have to concern yourself with eating, sleeping, your sh*tty job, taxes, the crabs, getting sick, growing old and shuffling off this mortal coil. Imagine the possibilities! With that titanium frame and all the time in the galaxy, you could explore the moons of Pluto, dismantle the AIDS virus, out-Proust Proust with the ultimate novel or even unravel the machinations of how time travel may work. Hell, even figure out what the f*ck the inside of a Hot Pocket is really made of (my guess is potting soil and week old semen. Don’t ask).

But really, under Asimov’s philosophies as an android, what could you do with all that freedom and all that time? Your human condition in an undying avatar wandering the world. The years. The decades. What would you do?

Remember that thing about self-actualization? What if not having a self at the outset would be the greatest advantage? Pure tabula rasa. What if time was not an object?

The centuries await…

Richard Mark (Neill) figures his well-to-do family needs to keep up with the Jones’. He solicits NA Robotics for his very own android valet. You know, to perform the domestic tedium to free up his wife and kids’ time to pursue other interests via tasking Andrew (Williams) to do android things.

That’s its name. Andrew. Andrew the android. Cute, right?

At first Andrew is simply positronic hired help. But Mark notices over time that Andrew starts to affect human tendencies, like developing an affinity for music, taking up woodcarving and stranger still an almost paternal affection for Mark’s children. Rather than being disturbed by Andrew’s very un-android behavior, Mark encourages it. Soon Andrew becomes less of an automaton and more of a family member. In such a liberal environment, the possibilities intrigue Mark. He explains to Andrew that given enough time—which indeed Andrew has, thanks to design—he could quite possibly achieve the ultimate dream of all people on the planet: true self-actualization.

This understandably intrigues Andrew in return. So he sets about on his quest towards humanity.

It first involves some clock making…

Let me get this out the way first. Despite my cynical, snarky demeanor, I’m quite the sentimental softie at heart. And yes I have one, you pricks. I hate seeing people hurt and in pain. I’m truly upset about the proliferation of plastic trash clogging our oceans to go so far as to try and recycle everything, including Saran Wrap (it’s a losing battle, what with all of those bodies to dispose of. So I’ve heard. Hey). The current Syrian refugee crisis pisses me off, and the local story about some inner city kid finding salvation in his cello playing simultaneously warms and amps me.

I’ve even cried over a few movies, too. Quit snuffling your nose; you’ve done it, too. Admit it. I am. Here’s a short list and why (and I’m going to forgo my usual REDACTED gimmick. In other words, spoilers ahead): the final act of my favorite film, The Fisher King, when two-plus hours of comic tragedy ends with bittersweet romantic triumph (one of the few Terry Gilliam movies to actually have a happy ending). The scene in Jerry Maguire (shut it) when Cuba’s character recovers from his near debilitating injury to finally figure out what’s what. All of Grave Of The Fireflies made me willingly lose hope.

I can now say that Bicentennial Man tops the list. It’s a good thing and I have no shame. So f*ck you.

But before we reach for the Kleenex, we better take apart how I got to such a lowly, squishy state.

Chris Columbus always struck me as a very methodical director. Journeyman, to be sure, but just because you get the megaphone slapped into your paw doesn’t mean you’re a capable director with a certain sense of, well, direction. Hell, the dude who helmed the biggest comedy ever (Home Alone. Really) as well as the most winning movie series to date (the Harry Potter films. Remember them?) knows a few tricks. Tell the folks in Tinsel Town. Here, this is your folding chair, sit. This is a slate. Clack. Now make us some money. People love those Henry Porter flicks. Get to work, bitch.

Not fair. Not every director is designed to shoot Oscar fodder. With Columbus it’s a good thing. Lacking industry mooring (at least as far as moneychanging name rec goes), the man’s work can slip under the radar, make solid films and have folks walk away satisified wondering not who made the film, but when the next one will drop.

Colombus’ whimsical style suited Bicentennial Man to a T with a capital T. I’ll admit it. I was skeptical at first. The whole I, Robot thing still had a bad taste in my ass, and the prospect of watching Williams as a cute robot mince through the decades with his signature manic delivery didn’t smell too good either. But this was a Columbus movie, and even with all the histrionics that fantasy and a screaming pre-pube Macaulay Culkin can prove, the guy has a steady hand. Granted its a hand clutching a Snickers bar, but sweetness can be potent with the right pancreas.

At its core, Man is a meditation on the nature of humanity. Kinda heady stuff for a family film, which is what Man ostensibly is. Mostly it’s a story of self-discovery, one of the oldest plot devices in Christendom. It’s the tale that’s launched innumerable directorial careers. Hey, when you think about it, it’s launched all directorial careers. So even though Columbus is an established workaday director, legacy secured, résumé solid, why tackle such an old warhorse?

Because has that soild, semi-Disney flair. Some may call his deal sappy. Others slick. But in the endgame, a good delivery is a good delivery, especially when the director has a unique toolbox to draw ideas from. With Man Columbus demonstrates his skill. Here, take my hand. I’ll show you a world of pure imagination.

Too much? Shut up. I told you about the Jerry Maguire thing. Go with it.

Of course Man is a character study. It’s nothing but. It’s essential. Hey, we’re following the lifespan of a near immortal android here. Chances are we got a lot of time on our hands here following the exploits of our vanadium friend. It’s a good thing that our avatar is the late, great Robin Williams. Whether it was Williams’ ongoing efforts to stretch out and distance himself from Mrs Doubtfire territory (also directed by Columbus, oddly enough), or Columbus’ hand both reigning him in and harnessing his skills, it was tough imagining anyone else besides WIlliams playing Andrew.

When he wasn’t employing his trademark zany, unhinged, I-need-Limictal act Williams could be a thoughtful funnyman as well as actor. The man could be very good at channelling the child within as with his roles in HookJack and The World According To Garp (one out of three ain’t bad here). Who better to play an adult child, albeit made of circuits? And Andrew is a child, believe me. Over the course of Man we watch him grow, mature and evolve from automated whatsit to fully-formed individual. If it wasn’t for Williams’ honest and endearing delivery, Man would’ve gone sh*te over shovel before the opening credits finished.

Back to Williams’ comic style as it pertained to Man. Knowing the man’s usual act, Columbus spinning it reverse made a whole new funny. Andrew’s reactive nature is in stark contrast to Williams’ usual histrionics. For once he’s not mugging the camera, bouncing around the set and bursting into impressions. No. We’re watching Andrew, not Williams here. Andrew is passive, sometimes a student, sometimes an object of ridicule. He’s a robot. He takes orders, not give them. He’s restrained, as was Williams’ winning performance. Being the brunt of humor isn’t something I’ve ever recalled in one of Williams’ roles. He’s proactive, but his Andrew certainly ain’t. It was refreshing, and nary a scream was belted.

Columbus was shrewd with his pile of parts as far as coaxing the required earnestness and innocence as any Pygmalion should be. Bits and pieces are carefully dropped along Andrew’s journey in regards to his developing “humanity.” It’s the softest sell of the philosophy of identity I’ve ever seen. It’s a good thing. Man‘s quietly engaging in no small part to Williams. Can’t stress this enough. Hell, even Williams’ voice suits Andrew well.

I’ll quit gushing. In all honesty, Man followed the same template as Forrest Gump. One could even get the impression that Columbus had a case of Zemekis envy going on here. Yes, Columbus’ work can be sweet-natured, but sometimes there’s an overspill of schmaltz. A lot of on the nose imagery. I mean, the clock thing wasn’t real subtle there. Neither was the cross generational joys of implied incest (I call ’em like I see ’em, folks. Not sorry). Sure, this is a voyage of discovery, right? As engaging as Man wasit had a tendency to wander. Probably hard to avoid covering a timeline of two centuries. Still, as absorbing as Man was, in excess of two hours I did drift. There was a lot of proverbial ground to cover, and some fat should’ve been trimmed. We didn’t need to know in depth the technical aspects—literally—of Andrew’s evolution. And the whole familial generations intertwining sometimes got confusing.  That and we delved—nay, plummeted—into forced social commentary in act three. These carps are minor, but glaring.

I’m compelled to give a few small shout-outs to the supporting cast. Hey, it was Williams’ show all the way, but a lead is only as good as whom they have to bounce off of. For instance, Sam Neill is not a great actor, but he’s always solid and enjoyable. He exudes just enough confidence here as a kind patriarch and a man of principle, as well as being left-thinking enough to know an opportunity when he sees one. Based against his Mark’s reticence, it’s really quite remarkable that he’s Andrew’s biggest advocate in letting the android discover his own humanity. This from a guy who learned his lesson about advocating evolution through science after nearly getting chewed to death by velociraptors. You learn, you grow.

I really liked the angular chemistry between Oliver Platt and Williams. This might’ve been the first time in my viewing practices that an ancillary character arrives so late on the scene and yet felt so necessary as well as there all along. Platt’s Rupert had a nifty combo of anxiety, wonder and drive that mirrored Andrew’s mission, but with a healthy dose of deadpan humor. Deadpan is not something Williams did well. Off and on, but not consistently over his wildly eclectic film career. Deadpan Platt works wonders with this stuff, as he did here. Self-deprication paired with the manic fervor of Q (Desmond, not DeLancie) made his Rupert fun. Brittle fun, mind you, but fun nonetheless.

I think that’s all. Covered what was necessary for this journey. Watching Man was emotionally exhausting, but overall worth it. I’ll take any emotional investment created by a movie over your best star power, F/X or gratuitous baring of firm breasts (one out of three ain’t bad). I’m a pretty cynical bitch, but show me a film like this and I will tear up as Johnny Rotten would after hearing Terry Callier’s latest album. Namely, let any pre-conceived expectations go.

Man‘s a sweet film, but hey, it’s a Columbus movie. So shake a hand.

The Verdict…

Rent it or relent it? Rent it. Hope you like cotton candy. You’ll be swimming in it. My d*ck has the cavities to prove it. Enjoy the visual and get that sh*t checked.

Stray Observations…

  • I loved the fact that Andrew affected the same gait throughout his transformation. Once a ‘bot always a ‘bot.
  • “Chickens do not have lips.” Old gag. Still funny.
  • Root’s best acting I’ve ever seen, and I tend to get out much.
  • “You too?”
  • In a CGI world, there’s something to be said for good animatronics, prosthetics and make-up.
  • “You can’t invest your emotions in a machine.” Hear that? Now drop your iPhones.
  • “One is still all thumbs.” Confucius left out that one.
  • “I don’t have a mucus gland.” Useful during allergy season if you think about it.
  • I know that beach. I’ve been there.
  • “Did he not breast feed?”
  • Has Bradley Whitford ever aged? Or not play a schmuck?
  • “Shut her off or I will.”
  • I appreciated the practical touches here to the future cityscapes.
  • “It’s huge…but lovely.”
  • I couldn’t help but feel a taste of incest in Andrew’s quest for humanity.
  • “I’m done.”

Next Installment…

Say it with me, folks: “I’ve had it with these mother f*cking Snakes On [A] mother f*cking Plane!”

Forgive the brackets.