Amongst Hollywood heavyweights, Gerard Butler has become a trusty leading man with diverse roles in action movies – think Olympus has Fallen (2013), London has Fallen (2016), and Angel has Fallen (2019) – romance movies – think P.S. I Love You (2007) – and period dramas – think The Vanishing (2018). So, it should be no surprise that he has turned in another solid performance as the pilot of the flight from hell. When Captain Brodie Torrance (Butler) takes his seat in the cockpit of Trailblazer Airlines flight 119, he thinks he’s in for another routine journey. He’s wrong of course. With co-pilot Samuel Dele (Yoson An) at his side, the pair’s congenial exchange of pleasantries is interrupted by an airline employee whose departure checklist includes the information that they are flying into a storm. But, in mindless, bureaucratic fashion, he informs them that they can simply avoid the bad weather by changing altitude and still get the plane and passengers, only fourteen of them, safely to Honolulu. Boy, was he wrong! But before takeoff, a new development presents itself, or rather himself, in the form of the black prisoner and man of few words, Louis Gaspare (Mike Colter) who is being escorted in handcuffs by a black RCMP officer back to Canada. The charge is murder, a fact that is not immediately known to all. To say the least, the presence of the prisoner on board stirs interest and a little trepidation amongst the passengers, two of whom are millennials who try to steal a photo of Gaspare while pretending to pose for a selfie. Let’s just say, he’s not having it!
It will come as no shock to most viewers that the storm is far worse than the Trailblazer bureaucrat predicts. This development is of course the movie’s first tempo shift. Forced to fly through and above the storm, the plane suffers extensive damage before the pilots can spot land and bring it down for an emergency landing. In the ensuing turmoil and chaos of the jarring descent, two people die, including the RCMP officer who was tasked with minding the supposed criminal Gaspare. But the landing offers good news and bad news. The good is that the rest of the passengers and crew survived due to the heroics of Torrance and Dele. But the bad, well, it’s pretty damn bad! You see they’ve landed on the island of Jolo in the Philippines which happens to be in the deadly grip of a terrorist organization that sees foreigners as potential prisoners who can be traded (or not) for compensation, aka ransom.
While the remaining crew tries to keep the passengers safe and calm near the site of the crash, Torrance departs with Gaspare (who also has a military background) to see if help can be found. Gaspare is a man of few words, but the few we do get lead to the conclusion that his homicide charge was unwarranted. It’s not that Torrance trusts Gaspare, but that he thinks he’s better off keeping him away from the other passengers. But when Gaspare convinces Torrance to undo his handcuffs, he disappears into the forest, never to be seen again? Not quite. Torrance meanwhile finds a phone in an abandoned building and gets a call through to his distressed daughter who, by this point understands that her father’s plane has disappeared. But the conversation is cut short when he’s attacked by a local member of the rebel group. It is at this point when Gaspare’s character is revealed. With no obvious benefit for himself, he returns, armed and saves Captain Torrance’s life. From this point on a sort of buddy movie develops with the pair intent on saving the now captured passengers and crew and finding a way off the island.
While there’s plenty of drama playing out in Jolo – in no small part thanks to the maniacal rebel leader Datu Junmar played with fiendish abandon by Evan Dane Taylor – there’s also boardroom drama playing out at the Trailblazer Airline headquarters. There we see the now contrite bureaucrat who made the fatal decision to greenlight the flight being taken to task by the company head Terry Hampton (Paul Ben-Victor) and the crisis consultant Scarsdale (Tony Goldwyn) who’s been brought in to extract the passengers and crew from Jolo and do media damage control. The film focuses on the first priority when Scarsdale dispatches a private military outfit with significant fire power and a sizeable ransom to extract the survivors.
As the film unfolds the unit’s efforts intersect with those of Torrance and Gaspare, but the blood lust of the rebels makes it unclear if anyone, never mind everyone, will get out alive. The plan of escape is risky: get back on the damaged plane and fly everyone out. But to do so, they must first free the incarcerated passengers and crew, make it back to the crash site, and board the plane in one piece. Will Gaspare, who has a jail cell awaiting him in Canada, be one of those people? In the ensuing chaos, someone grabs the ransom money and makes a beeline for the jungle. We won’t say who, only that we cheered! The one glaring omission is that while the film takes some time to tie up the storyline of the white Captain Torrance, it fails to give the same space for the black “criminal” Gaspare whose mysterious backstory actually makes him the more interesting character. Plane is not life-changing by any means. But if you’re looking for a solid Saturday-night action movie, you’re unlikely to be disappointed.