Producers: Lorenzo di Bonaventura, Mark Vahradian, Marc Butan, Gerard Butler and Alan Siegel   Director: Jean-François Richet   Screenplay: Charles Cumming and J.P. Davis   Cast: Gerard Butler, Mike Colter, Yoson An, Daniella Pineda, Paul Ben-Victor, Remi Adeleke, Joey Slotnick, Evan Dane Taylor, Claro de los Reyes, Kelly Gale, Haleigh Hekking, Lilly Krug, Tara Westwood, Oliver Trevena, Quinn McPherson, Paul Ben-Victor and Tony Goldwyn   Distributor: Lionsgate

Grade: C+

One could hardly come up with a plainer title than “Plane,” but while Jean-François Richet’s movie is nothing more than a Gerard Butler action potboiler, it’s one that’s competently made, delivering the adrenaline rush his fans expect.  Is it a great movie?  No.  Is it even a good one?  Not really.  But its efficiency sets it apart from many recent examples in its admittedly vacuous but popular genre.

Butler plays commercial pilot Brodie Torrance, a still-grieving widower devoted to his collegiate daughter Daniele (Haleigh Hekking), whom he plans to join for a reunion in Hawaii after his New Year’s Eve flight from Singapore to Tokyo for Trailblazer Airlines.  He and his eager young co-pilot Dele (Yoson An) are looking forward to an uneventful flight, but a company executive, interested only in the bottom line, has instructed them to fly directly into bad weather rather than go around it to save on fuel costs.  It’s a disastrous blunder: the aircraft is struck by lightning, and Torrance is forced to land the incapacitated plane, miraculously, on the small island of Jolo in the southern Philippines.

There are two casualties among the small number on board—one of the three flight attendants and a federal agent accompanying a prisoner, Louis Gaspard (Mike Colter), who’s being extradited on a murder charge.  Gaspard survives, unscathed but still handcuffed, along with Torrance, Dele, chief flight attendant Bonnie (Daniella Pineda) and a junior colleague, and a small number of stereotypical passengers, the most notable of whom is the obligatory smarmy businessman (Joey Slotnick). 

With no way to communicate with the outside world about their location, Brodie volunteers Gaspard—who turns out to be ex-Foreign Legion!—to accompany him in search of help.  Unbeknownst to them, the island is controlled by a brutal militia group headed by a greedy rebel named Junmar (Evan Dane Taylor), whose modus operandi is taking foreigners captive to ransom them.  Though after reaching a dilapidated facility Brodie’s able to get through a call to his daughter to give her some information on where they are (after a company operator dismisses him as a prankster), he’s interrupted by one of Junmar’s thugs, leading to a protracted, nasty fight that naturally ends in Torrance’s survival.

He and Gaspard now have another mission, because in their absence the remaining crew and passengers (save for a couple that wind up dead) have been taken prisoner by the militia.  They have to be rescued.  Fortunately, Daniele has gotten her dad’s message through to the Trailblazer crisis team, and Hampton (Paul Ben-Victor), the company’s owner, and Scarsdale (Tony Goldwyn) the ex-Special Ops guy he’s called in as an advisor, send in an extraction team headed by macho Shellback (Remi Adeleke).  The newcomers and plane survivors are able to return to the downed aircraft and attempt an escape from Junmar and his followers.  A prolonged standoff results, and it’s hardly spoiling things to say that all winds up in the way Oscar Wilde once described fiction—the good end happily, the bad unhappily.  But naturally it’s a close thing, with plenty of felled bodies and a final rush to satisfy everyone waiting to see the Junmar get his just deserts.                   

The scenario concocted by Charles Cumming and J.P. Davis is absurd, of course, but Richet stages it with aplomb; he, cinematographer Brendan Glavin and editor David Rosenbloom even make the on-board chaos during the storm pretty harrowing, though Mailara Santana Pomales’ production design is just average and the effects are only medium-grade.  The propulsive score by Marco Beltrami and Marcus Trumpp reinforces the frantic action.  Butler, along with Liam Neeson, is the present-day go-to guy for such fare, and he acquits himself as the audience surrogate with his customary combination of gruffness and empathy, selling both Brodie’s physicality and his fatherly concern.  Colter seconds him well as the—of course—wrongly accused prisoner-turned-hero, and is accorded a suitably upbeat sendoff.  Of the others An and Pineda are agreeable, Slotnick suitably irritating, and Taylor genuinely despicable.  Goldwyn is obviously having a grand time playing the smooth, hard-as-nails Scarsdale. (With character names like Torrance, Scarsdale and Hampton, perhaps the screenwriters just checked some maps to decide on them.)    

Action movie junkies will get their money’s worth from “Plane.”  On the other hand, those who don’t care for such stuff may prefer to crack open their Blu-Ray copy of “Airplane!” for another viewing instead: fewer thrills, but more intentional laughs.