It would be an interesting exercise to show a double feature of Mario Van Peebles’ new movie “Baadasssss!” — about the struggle to destroy old stereotypes of blacks in film — with “Soul Plane,” a broad comedy that seems solely interested in perpetuating new stereotypes.
While Van Peebles pays homage to his director father, Melvin, who was tired of seeing people who looked like him depicted in subservient positions, “Soul Plane” director Jessy Terrero embraces the bling and the booty shaking with an enthusiasm that could be described as giddy, if only the smoke from Snoop Dogg’s ever-present blunt didn’t suggest a mellower vibe.
Snoop co-stars as a pilot in the movie — which first-time director Terrero, who is black, describes in the press notes with all sincerity as “an urban take on ‘Airplane!”’ — though the rapper essentially is playing himself. The only difference here is that he’s sitting in a cockpit instead of a tricked-out ’64 Impala.
The idea of Snoop flying a commercial airplane is funny in itself; “Soul Plane” consists of many other amusing concepts and little else.
The airline is called NWA, though not in honor of the rap group. It’s named for Nashawn Wade (Kevin Hart), who wins a $100 million settlement after a traumatic flight on another airline and uses the money to form his own. Nashawn’s no-good cousin, Muggsy (Method Man), would be considered his right-hand man if he actually accomplished anything.
NWA’s flights leave Los Angeles International Airport from Terminal Malcolm X, where travelers can kill time by playing pickup basketball or enjoying a meal at Roscoe’s Chicken and Waffles.
Once on board, passengers are seated in first class, which features white leather couches and meals of Cristal and filet mignon, or “low class,” with its coin-operated overhead compartments, 40-ounces of Colt .45 malt liquor and greasy boxes of Popeye’s chicken.
And the plane itself? Metallic purple with spinning rims and a hydraulic system to make it bounce before take-off.
To quote Barbara Billingsley’s “Airplane!” character: “Stewardess? I speak jive.” But even that doesn’t make the movie better.
The ideas and sight gags are individually funny, but they would have worked better within the confines of a comedy sketch. Stretched across a feature-length film in Bo Zenga and Chuck Wilson’s script, they feel — to use the vernacular — played out.
Jokes about black-white relations seem especially trite. Tom Arnold plays a nerdy guy named Elvis Hunkee who takes an NWA flight home with his teenage kids (Arielle Kebbel and Ryan Pinkston) and uptight girlfriend (Missi Pyle) after a trip to Cracker Land. He learns to appreciate the bootyliciousness of his female co-passengers, while his girlfriend leaves him mid-flight for a freakishly well-endowed stranger named Jerome.
As in “Airplane!” a Los Angeles Laker makes a cameo; instead of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, it’s Karl Malone. (Shaq must have been too busy practicing free throws.) And as in “Airplane!” an estranged couple must come together and land the plane when the pilots become incapacitated. Here it’s Nashawn and his ex-girlfriend, Giselle (K.D. Aubert), who happens to be on board.
The main difference between this and “Airplane!” though, is a matter of subtlety. When the passengers in that 1980 classic got sick from their in-flight meals, their pain was implied. When Nashawn eats a bad plate of beef stroganoff in the beginning of “Soul Plane,” we not only have to watch him run down the aisle to the bathroom, we have to endure the sights and sounds of his gastrointestinal torment.
Then Nashawn gets suctioned onto the toilet when a flight attendant hits the wrong switch, causing him to scream repeatedly, “I can’t get out!”
Thankfully, we can.