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Mike Colter and Gerard Butler crouch in the jungle with assault rifles at the ready in the movie Plane Photo: Kenneth Rexach/Lionsgate

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Plane nails three things: planes, kicking ass, and planes

Gerard Butler’s still got it, baby

The folks involved with the new action movie Plane, starring Gerard Butler and Mike Colter, are very proud of the plane. Butler claimed in a recent interview that he fought to keep the title — which, in the handful of times I’ve seen the trailer in theaters, universally elicits laughter — and even called the titular transport “the star of the film.”

Naturally, that sounds ridiculous. Watch the movie, though, and one might start to believe him: The first 20 minutes are full of plane minutiae, like preflight checks, flight attendant rituals, crew small talk, annoying passengers, and lots of accurate-sounding radio chatter. It’s the Chef’s Table of plane movies, until it turns into the Rio Bravo of plane movies.

Like an actual commercial aircraft, Plane does not look like much, but it’s also wildly efficient. Butler plays Brodie Torrance, a longtime pilot for the fictional Trailblazer Airways, knocking out one last New Year’s Eve flight before making his way to see his daughter for an overdue visit. Unfortunately, his lightly attended flight encounters two complications: Louis Gaspare (Evil’s Colter), an accused murderer being extradited by the FBI, and a severe storm that forces Brodie to crash-land on a remote island near the Philippines run by a ruthless warlord. When said warlord discovers the plane, he takes the passengers hostage, missing only Brodie and Louis. The movie unfolds from there with a simple mission: Get the passengers out, get them back on the plane, and figure out a way to get it back in the air and to safety again.

Gerard Butler stands with his hands on his hips in his pilot’s uniform with a bloodied collar, with flight crew on each side in the movie Plane. Photo: Kenneth Rexach/Lionsgate

Once Plane reaches cruising altitude (not sorry), the most surprising thing about it is its straight-faced execution. Neither overly serious nor entirely humorless, Plane is a movie that adores competence, where the heroes are consummate professionals and the people who get in their way are either terrorists or idiots, or worse, government idiots. This is beautifully summed up in a subplot where Trailblazer executives go into crisis mode in order to address the missing aircraft, a meeting that is effectively overtaken by corporate fixer Scarsdale (Tony Goldwyn). The third hero of Plane, Scarsdale does not have patience for governments or corporate face-saving, giving the film much of both its humor and its action — the former by steamrolling the suits in the room, the latter by hiring a crew of private military operatives to help extract the passengers.

None of this detracts from Butler and Colter as the brawny action heroes upon whose shoulders Plane rests. Both actors are deft enough to make their characters feel like vulnerable flesh and blood — Butler as the world-weary and desperate idealist, and Colter as the wrongfully accused and highly skilled pragmatist. Their dynamic is fun without being funny, as Brodie is forced to trust Louis out of necessity, and Louis has every reason to ditch Brodie but recognizes that their odds of survival are better together. Mirroring the real-life actors portraying them, the two feel like underappreciated pros paired together by chance, neither waiting for nor expecting recognition yet committed to the art of ass-kicking. Director Jean-François Richet brings confidence to the cockpit (OK, sorry), guiding Plane with a steady hand. The movie’s drama efficiently ratchets up the tension for its action to hit hard and move on. Again: Like an actual plane, it’s a marvel of craftsmanship so unobtrusive that it’s easily mistaken for mundanity.

I would watch Brodie Torrance and Louis Gaspare save a new vehicle together every year, especially if it’s a movie that has a final-act shootout as good as Plane’s, where they’re covered by a video game-ass sniper laying waste to generic terrorists with a fucking huge gun. If Plane was this good, sign me up for Boat.

Plane is now playing in theaters.

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