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"SOUL PLANE"
(2004) (Kevin Hart, Tom Arnold) (R)

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QUICK TAKE:
Comedy: Various passengers and crew members take the inaugural flight on the first black-themed airline.
PLOT:
After winning $100 million in a court case against an airline, unsuccessful entrepreneur Nashawn Wade (KEVIN HART) suddenly decides that he's going to open the world's first black-themed airline. With the help of his cousin Muggsy (METHOD MAN) who hires laidback pilot Captain Mack (SNOOP DOGG) and his more uptight African co-pilot, Gaeman (GODFREY), as well as flight attendants Blanca (SOFIA VERGARA), Flame (GARY ANTHONY WILLIAMS) and Tamika (ANGELL CONWELL), and bathroom attendant Johnny (D.L. HUGHLEY), the group prepares for their inaugural flight.

Among their passengers is Mr. Hunkee (TOM ARNOLD), his girlfriend Barbara (MISSI PYLE) and his two kids Heather (ARIELLE KEBBEL) and Billy (RYAN PINKSTON), who comprise the only white people on board. Then there's amorous couple Cherry (SOMMORE) and DJ (BRIAN HOOKS) who want to have sex everywhere in the plane, and security guard Jamiqua (MO'NIQUE) who earlier frisked well-endowed model Jerome (DWAYNE ADWAY). Also on board is an older blind man (JOHN WITHERSPOON) who claims to be a player, as well as Giselle (K.D. AUBERT), Nashawn's ex-girlfriend.

With plenty of black themed amenities for both the upper and lower class passengers, the plane lifts off on its inaugural flight and the partying and assorted shenanigans soon begin.

OUR TAKE: 2 out of 10
In general, it's always a good idea to try to make a film that's as good as possible. That's doubly true when you're remaking a previous release or at minimum putting some sort of spin on a classic. When it comes to spoof movies, the original "Airplane" is considered just that for its genre.

For better or worse (you guess which it is), director Jessy Terrero (making his debut) has decided to make a "black" version of the film with "Soul Plane." By that, I mean one that contains stereotypical comedy trappings commonly associated with certain aspects of the race.

If that sounds politically incorrect, well it is, but the film is clearly an equal opportunity offender. Viewers are invited to laugh at all of the clichéd black cultural trappings, as well as material aimed at white people, women, gays and, considering all of the heightened airport security nowadays, even Arabs.

I'm one who thinks that political correctness has gone too far where everyone is afraid to say anything for fear of insulting someone or, worse yet, instigating a lawsuit. Yet, being politically incorrect is only a wise idea if your material is outrageously funny enough that it offsets any potential bad feelings. This film is outrageous all right, but only in the sense of how bad and poorly constructed it truly is.

In fact, after suffering for some ninety minutes through it, I had the urge to go back and watch the brilliant 1980 predecessor, if only to cleanse the comedy palate. I may have seen worse comedies in my life (I'm thinking of the likes of "Freddy Got Fingered" and "Monkeybone"), but this one isn't far from that list. After seeing it, you'll probably agree that it even insults the concept of "lowest common denominator."

True to form, it plays out like a skit that "Saturday Night Live," "Mad TV" or the now defunct "In Living Color" may have considered. After all, the latter was highly successful at playing with and off black cultural stereotypes and pushing the boundaries of good taste. Yet, their writing was usually on the mark and often quite funny when not downright hilarious.

Sadly, none of that can be said about this offering. Writers Bo Zenga ("Body Waves") and Chuck Wilson (making his feature debut) trot out just about every stereotype and cliché you can imagine regarding black culture, clothing, food and beverage choices and more, but the best any of it can do is be slightly and only briefly amusing. If the thought of the lone white family on board having the last name "Hunkee" (that, get it, sounds like "honkey") or the plane bouncing away from the gate like a hydraulic equipped car has you in stitches, this film may be right up your alley.

There were those at our advance screening who were laughing quite hard. Yet, others sat in complete stony silence and even the hearty laughers eventually came to their senses and/or discovered that their comedy well had indeed run dry.

The film's various running gags - John Witherspoon ("The Ladies Man," the "Friday" movies) playing an older, lecherous and blind "player," Brian Hooks ("3 Strikes," "Beloved") and Sommore ("Friday After Next") trying to set an in flight record for logging hours in the "mile high club," and Snoop Dogg ("Starsky and Hutch," "Bones"), well, pretty much playing himself -- quickly lose what little charm, if any, they possessed and are quickly run into the ground.

To make matters worse, the filmmakers even fumble and/or quickly forget the scant material that has a tad of potential, such as the pilot announcing that he's afraid of heights -- during the flight. Making a bad situation worse, they also try to introduce various dramatic moments into the mix.

There's the flat lead character played by Kevin Hart ("Along Came Polly," "Scary Movie 3") trying to get back together with his ex-girlfriend played by K. D. Aubert ("Hollywood Homicide," "Friday After Next"), while Tom Arnold ("Cradle 2 the Grave," "True Lies") worries about his now adult teenage daughter played by Arielle Kebbel (making her debut). We're presumably supposed to view such material as dramatic relief (away from the rapid fire spray of comedic attempts), but all of it falls flat just like the rest of the effort.

While watching this mess, all I could think about and compare it to was its far more brilliant predecessor that successfully mixed and matched story, dialogue and visual gags into one wildly satisfying and highly entertaining experience.

In concept, there's not much separating that film from this offering, but in terms of execution, they're on opposite ends of the same scale. If there's anything worse than a comedy that doesn't work, it's a spoof that similarly fails, if only for the sheer number of unsuccessful gags and comedy attempts. And "Soul Plane" is filled to the brim with just that. It rates as just a 2 out of 10.




Reviewed May 25, 2004 / Posted May 28, 2004


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