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‘Plane’: Cinematic junk food, but oh, so tasty

Gerard Butler and Mike Colter make for a dynamic duo in this brainless but entertaining action thriller

Gerard Butler, left, and Mike Colter in “Plane.” (Kenneth Rexach/Lionsgate)
(2.5 stars)

Like a serving of extreme junk food — say, a Flamin’ Hot Cheetos-crusted fried chicken sandwich — the movie “Plane” is better than it looks. That’s not to say it’s a great film, or even a good one, but this action thriller, set on a remote jungle island swarming with Filipino separatists who have taken the passengers and crew of a downed airliner hostage, is strangely satisfying in its way: flavorful and almost purist in its single-minded focus on delivering empty entertainment calories.

The story centers on an unlikely pair of heroes: pilot Brodie Torrance (Gerard Butler), en route from Singapore to Japan, and bearing the mild shame of an old incident in which he punched and choked out an unruly passenger, and Louis Gaspare (Mike Colter), a convicted murderer who is being extradited as the film opens, and whose assistance the pilot seeks when he discovers his prisoner’s background as a military commando. After leaving the plane’s stranded occupants to seek help elsewhere on the island, Torrance and Gaspare — no first names here, bro — return to discover that a violent militia has already killed two of the passengers, with plans to ransom the others for cash by posting videos online in which they threaten execution unless a bounty is paid.

Bang, and we’re off.

Working from a spare screenplay by Charles Cumming and J.P. Davis, director Jean-François Richet — a French filmmaker who has jumped the pond to make Hollywood B-movies (“Assault on Precinct 13”) — keeps things moving at a fast clip, with no time for extraneous backstory or questions. Who is Gaspare? What are the circumstances of his crime? Was he falsely accused? Can he be trusted? Has he reformed, and is he now seeking redemption? Who cares?

The filmmakers know better than to clutter up this story with cliches, especially when it comes to these, let’s face it, stock characters. The mystery and ambiguity surrounding one half of this dynamic duo actually make for a less formulaic — and therefore better — movie. The only digressions from the rumble in the jungle are a handful of scenes set in the operation center of Torrance’s airline, where a hard-boiled crisis management expert (Tony Goldwyn) is shown coordinating a rescue attempt by a team of private mercenaries, led by a no-nonsense Remi Adeleke and armed with an arsenal of very, very big guns.

Early on, Torrance phones his daughter in California, whom he hopes to visit after this flight. “I’ll be there with plenty of time,” he says, with almost laughably naive optimism. “There won’t be any delays.”

He’s wrong, of course, on the first count. But in terms of “Plane’s” brisk and layover-free flight time, the second half of his statement bears out. “Plane” is a shot of adrenaline and fast-paced, brain-free fun. What more could you ask for in the middle of January?

R. At area theaters. Contains violence and coarse language. 107 minutes.

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