'Soul Plane': Crash And Burn
By Sara Gebhardt
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, May 28, 2004; Page WE33
IF ONLY the National Transportation Safety Board had license to stop "Soul Plane" from taking off, we could have saved ourselves from yet another African American film that thrives on stereotypes.
By letting it fly, viewers have a chance to take a crash course in tastelessness by watching another piece of nouveau blaxploitation, where black people decked out in their bling-bling sing and dance to raunchy hip-hop music and eat fried chicken while sipping Alize.
Unfortunately, the world is full of people who will likely find this brand of trashy humor entertaining. They are likely the same folks who comfortably and euphemistically refer to black culture as "urban."
It's clear from the beginning, when main character Nashawn (Kevin Hart) gets stuck on an airplane toilet, that dirty, slapstick jokes will add up to the sum of the film, though for a split second there is hope that the story of an airline run by African Americans and for African Americans will take the higher road.
After Nashawn wins a miraculous settlement of $100 million from the airline for his suffering (they also killed his dog) and decides to start his own airline instead of investing in his cousin Muggsy's (Method Man) day care/strip club idea, he comes off as a sympathetic, non-swearing, non-sex-crazed character who might actually do good for his people without confirming racists' prejudices.
But, lo, Nashawn isn't strong enough to buck the system. And neither were the writers or the actors who built the story around a purple plane that is souped-up with fancy rims and waits outside of Terminal X (named after Malcolm). They all just want to get paid.
Before the inaugural flight, Captain Mack (Snoop Dogg) shows up without real pilot credentials, and security agent Jamiqua (Mo'Nique) eagerly frisks some of the passengers who pass through the metal detectors, using her power to take one of the tall, handsome men into the bathroom and inspect him more.
Once inside the plane, passengers drool over the swanky first-class area, a banging night club and scantily clad, sexy flight attendants. Those not lucky enough to stay there are relegated to the "low class" section, in which antennas for television monitors are tweaked with aluminum foil, overhead compartments are lockers that require change to open and people who don't get seats cling to subway-style bars hanging from the ceiling during the long flight from Los Angeles to New York.
And since no black comedy would be complete without the unhip white guy and his kids who think they are down, Mr. Hunkee (Tom Arnold) and his family are on the maiden voyage of Flight 69. Mr. Hunkee's son dons Rocawear and translates ebonics for his dad, who is the platform for too many jokes about black male genitalia.
It's a shaky flight, considering Captain Mack doesn't really know how to operate a plane and instead gets high in the cockpit.
Along the way, there are many sex-based scenes, including a running subplot about a couple who copulates all over the plane and one in which a horny blind passenger has an "American Pie" moment with a potato. In the post-9/11 airline era, there is also a fair amount of Arab-bashing, as well as some African- and homosexual-bashing. The acting and the script are nowhere near good enough to make anybody believe these references are all in the spirit of good fun.
An hour and a half of real airplane turbulence is better than sitting through the bad, offensive material that makes up "Soul Plane." Fo' shizzle.
SOUL PLANE (R, 86 minutes) -- Strong sexual content, much profanity and drug use. Area theaters.
© 2004 The Washington Post Company