Plane has the most generic title in recent memory. It feels like it needs an exclamation point or something: Plane! Going with such a bland title was an odd choice, given that the story is packed with thrills and excitement. Back in the 1980s, stars like Arnold Schwarzenegger made action films that avoided going to outright preposterous places, yet didn't take themselves too seriously. This one is in the same mold. I enjoyed that old-school approach.

Brodie Torrance (Gerard Butler) is an airline pilot. He's scheduled to do a New Year's flight from Singapore to Tokyo. Only a small handful of passengers are on board. Shortly before takeoff, he gets notice that one of them will be Louis Gaspare (Mike Coulter), a guy who's being extradited on a murder charge. A police officer accompanies the handcuffed criminal, promising to take full responsibility for him. The flight ends up in big trouble when going through a massive storm. It gets struck by lightning, causing an electrical failure.

The damage is so bad that Brodie has to make a hard landing. He sets the damaged plane down on a remote island in the Philippines, one that has been overtaken by militias that kidnap foreigners and hold them for ransom. Needing to find a way to call for help, Brodie makes the decision to free Louis so they can go in search of a phone or radio. Meanwhile one of those local militias finds the passengers and abducts them. It's up to the pilot and the killer to save everyone. Meanwhile, a crisis manager (Tony Goldwyn) arrives at the airline headquarters to figure out a way to send help.

The storm sequence in Plane is harrowing, especially if you have a fear of flying. Director Jean-François Richet wisely avoids rushing through it. We get to see what Brodie and his co-pilot, Samuel Dele (Yoson An), do in an effort to keep the aircraft going. Time is also spent showing them searching for a semi-suitable place to land after it loses all power. Building suspense like that ups the “out of the frying pan, into the fire” experience for the characters. They've already been through an unfathomable ordeal before the real trouble begins.

The last hour has more typical, but still enjoyable, violent mayhem. There are shootouts and daring rescues and a fantastic physical fight between Brodie and an enemy that's staged in a single, dazzling shot. Plane's grand finale is perhaps the craziest thing in the movie. I had a suspicion of what Brodie would do to outwit the militia members and protect his passengers. What he actually proposes is something I didn't expect, and it adds another layer of tension to the plot. Writers Charles Cumming and J.P. Davis effectively keep the peril for the characters high throughout with a series of complications.

Gerard Butler gives a performance very similar to the ones he's given in many of his movies, including Geostorm and Angel Has Fallen. It works, though, because material like this suits his screen persona. We never doubt Brodie's commitment to protecting the others, even if it means putting himself in peril. Butler was the right choice for the role. Mike Coulter is good, as well. Pleasingly, the film doesn't water his character down or justify his crimes. Louis's arc takes him to a place that's honest. Coulter runs with it.

Plane doesn't reinvent the wheel, it just solidly carries out a traditional formula in which a normal guy becomes a hero in an extraordinary circumstance. The premise is fresh enough to spice things up, and the action is executed with enough skill to keep you hanging on, waiting to see what will happen next.

out of four

Plane is rated R for violence and language. The running time is 1 hour and 47 minutes.