Will Samuel L. Jackson Become the Next Chuck Norris?

(U-WIRE) STANFORD, Calif. — New Line Cinema isn’t holding press screenings for “Snakes on a Plane.” But that doesn’t mean Entertainment isn’t going to write about what’s certain to the best “worst movie of the year.”

Forget “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest,” forget “Superman Returns” and forget “The Da Vinci Code.”

Actually, we’ve probably already forgotten about “The Da Vinci Code.” That’s right, folks. The most anticipated movie of 2006 is upon us. “Snakes on a Plane,” the sophisticated human drama that features Samuel L. Jackson battling a plane-load of snakes, opens nation-wide tomorrow … with special previews tonight at 10pm for those of you who can’t wait.

Just in case you’ve had your head in the sand for the past year, the film’s plot centers on two FBI agents (Samuel L. Jackson and Nathan Phillips) who are given the routine task of escorting a key witness from Hawaii to California. However, their assignment becomes anything but routine when an assassin manages to sneak a time-release crate containing over 500 snakes aboard the plane in the hope of eliminating the witness.

It sounds stupid, and it’s meant to be. If ever there was a movie to champion Roger Ebert’s maxim “A movie isn’t about what it’s about, its how it’s about it,” this is it. No doubt, many will dismiss the movie as inane. But they’re missing the point.

Director David Ellis isn’t attempting to make great art here. He’s attempting to make a deliciously over-the-top popcorn flick: The kind of movie the terminally underrated “Deep Blue Sea” was and, dare I say, still is.

And there’s certainly a big audience for high-concept B-movies like these. The incredible buzz surrounding “Snakes on a Plane” is testament to this. The film was relatively unknown throughout most of last year. However, a blog entry made by screenwriter Josh Friedman in August, combined with the casting of Jackson, sparked initial interest in the movie. Soon movie fans seized upon the title, creating T-shirts, poems, poster art, parody films, songs and numerous fan sites. So began the Internet phenomenon that is “Snakes on a Plane.”

How a title can generate such enthusiasm is remarkable. No doubt the producers of “Deep Blue Sea” are regretting their rather nuanced choice. I’m sure alternate titles like “Super Smart Sharks” or “Sharks With Frickin’ Laser Beams Attached To Their Heads” (to borrow from “Austin Powers”) would have raised revenues. Expect “Snakes on a Plane’s” sequels to be called “Spiders on a Train” or, as one fan-made poster suggests, “Sharks on a Roller Coaster” (complete with tagline: You must be this tall … to DIE!).

Interestingly, New Line Cinema temporarily changed the title to “Pacific Air Flight 121” during production before Jackson and fans demanded it be changed back.
What is even more remarkable than the interest surrounding the movie is the impact this interest has had.

In March, New Line announced a contest on TagWorld allowing artists to have their music play in the movie. The film also underwent re-shoots in the same month to elevate the film’s rating from PG-13 to R. The additional material, sure to please fans, heightens the film’s nudity, gore and language. This means moviegoers get a scene in which two passengers attempt to join the mile-high club, and a scene in which Jackson utters the line fans demanded: “I want these motherf–king snakes off the motherf–king plane!”

Of course, all this hype could prove detrimental should the film fail to live up to expectations. But Ellis isn’t fussed. In an interview on commingsoon.net, the director claimed that fans aren’t expecting a great movie. They’re only expecting the “best worst movie of the year.” How can the film possibly fail?