There’s one thing to be said for The Day After Tomorrow: It’s a whole lot funnier than Soul Plane, a movie that consistently mistakes tastelessness for bad taste.
As director John Waters pointed out years ago, you actually have to have taste in order to produce something that’s in bad taste. The makers of Soul Plane simply have none at all — and they try to make up for it by demonstrating that they also have no talent. It’s not a happy prospect.
Actually, merely knowing that this is a tasteless and unfunny comedy featuring Snoop Dogg as a stoned airline pilot who has never actually flown a plane is probably enough. If that concept appeals to you, nothing I can say is likely to dissuade you from seeing this movie. But if it doesn’t, it’s unlikely you need to know anything further. Still, since I sat through the damned thing, I feel compelled to share the experience. No one likes to suffer alone.
Here’s the plot: Obnoxious Nashawn Wade (Kevin Hart, TV’s The Big House), debilitated by world-class gastric distress, gets stuck on a plane toilet seat due to an airlock malfunction. Attempts to remove him also result in jettisoning his dog from the baggage compartment, thereby sending the hapless canine to the big bye-bye through a jet engine. (You may pause here in order to stop laughing before reading further.) As a result, a jury awards him $100 million in damages.
Nashawn’s cousin Muggsy (Method Man) wants him to do something ridiculous with the money, like the time he talked Nashawn into opening a combination daycare center and strip club. Nashawn, instead, has his own ridiculous notion: starting the world’s first all-black airline. Said enterprise appears to consist of its own terminal — Terminal X (after Malcolm X) — and one plane, which is painted purple, and which has spinners on its wheels, and hydraulics, so it can bounce along the runway.
In a moment of more than usual stupidity, Nashawn allows Muggsy to hire the pilot, one Capt. Mack (Snoop Dogg) — who, it turns out, has never flown anything other than a flight simulator, is terrified of heights, is prone to air-sickness and spends most of his time getting stoned or otherwise ingesting anything that will alter his already tenuous grasp on reality. (Mr. Dogg says he’s portraying himself, and that his fans expect him to play a character who’s “cool.” No comment.)
Into this mix comes the hapless Hunkee (get it?) family — Mr. Hunkee (Tom Arnold); his nerdy son (Ryan Pinkston, Bad Santa); his oversexed, slightly underage daughter (Arielle Kebbel, The Bros.); and his trophy girlfriend (Missi Pyle, Big Fish). They’re soon awash in what the filmmakers insist is African-American culture. What that means in this case is that the nerdy son is soon festooned with chains and spouting all manner of ghetto-speak, thereby becoming cool, while trophy girlfriend dumps the head of the Hunkee household for a fellow “with a penis like a firehose,” and daughter Hunkee has some kind of come-to-her-senses awakening that I never did figure out.
Now, all of this might have been palatable, but it comes complete with a really nasty taste of just about every African-American stereotype imaginable — along with quite a few white stereotypes, some Arab ones and a bit of unadorned homophobia thrown in for seasoning. And even then Soul Plane might have squeaked by as a movie that deliberately set out to offend everyone, but there’s no evidence of that aim to be found. Instead, the film merely endorses the stereotypes and plays to established prejudices.
Worse, it’s not funny. Soul Plane is just a long parade of toilet jokes, penis jokes, drug jokes and then more drug jokes. As I watched the film unspool to a largely empty but conspicuously silent house, I sat there in amazement at how it was possible for every joke to fall flat this spectacularly. I blame the script and the direction in about even doses.
The script hasn’t the first clue what it wants to be, giving us a hero who starts out in full obnoxious mode, then turns invincibly stupid and finally emerges as supposedly likable — with nothing happening onscreen to cause these changes. First-time director Jessy Terrero hasn’t got the first clue how to stage anything, doesn’t know when to kill a joke, doesn’t grasp the basic concept that gags need payoffs and hasn’t the smallest inkling of how to tell a coherent story. Other than that, he has a great future as a filmmaker.
Move over, New York Minute, you’ve got some strong competition for worst film of 2004.
— reviewed by Ken Hanke