Then Playing — Plane; M3GAN; Satan Met a Lady

Plane (Jean-François Richet, 2023). Although I’m no comprehensive expert on the recent filmography of Gerard Butler, my limited viewing experience suggested he’s carving out a fascinating niche as the star of action thrillers that are simultaneously bonkers and strangely grounded. In Plane, Butler plays Brodie Torrance a skilled airline pilot with a troubled past who’s at the stick of a largely empty holiday flight that goes down in the midst of a massive storm that they would have avoided if not for greedy executives. Brodie’s heroic efforts bring the plan down for a rough landing that still preserves the safety of the passengers. The problem is that they’re stranded on an island filled with violent rebels who see a fuselage full of innocents as a prime opportunity for villainous brinksmanship. Desperate to again see his daughter (Halleigh Hekking) gives it the ol’ John McClane try, helped out by a former French Foreign Legion enlistee (Mike Colter) who was handily on the flight because he was being extradited to Canada to face murder charges. Director Jean-François Richet isn’t after nuance here and he’s content to let every character aside from his two protagonists stays in a space of tidy cliche. But the film has a gutty energy and an agreeable economy to it. Plane wants little more than to be the modern equivalent a diverting B movie, and it hits that goal like a strongman ringing the bell atop a high striker midway game.

M3GAN (Gerard Johnstone, 2023). Gerald Johnstone brings a lot of style to this bleakly comic romp of a horror film. In many ways, M3GAN does little more than update the marauding plaything model that’s been defined by Chucky for the past few decades, although rather than the mystical possession hoo-hah of that remarkably durable entertainment franchise, the new doll with a murderous streak comes at her compromised morality through the curdling of artificial intelligence. Gemma (Allison Williams) is a vaunted toy designer who becomes the guardian of her niece Cady (Violet McGraw) after a tragic accident. Unskilled and basically disinterested in parenting, Gemma uses her new charge as a one-girl focus group for a groundbreaking new doll, dubbed M3GAN (played physically by Amie Donald and voiced by Jenna Davis). The initial relief Gemma feels in outsourcing companionship is soon counteracted by mounting mayhem as M3GAN grows protective of the child she’s be bonded to. Trashy fun is still fun, and M3GAN pops with delirious, come-along-for-the-ride energy. There are jabs at sexism, classicism, and crass capitalism along the way. None of that commentary is especially insightful, but it lends an extra blunt-edge appeal to the material.

Satan Met a Lady (William Dieterle, 1936). Bette Davis’s star was on the rise when this playful distraction of a detective film was released, so much so that she claimed top billing for her performance as femme fatale socialite Valerie Purvis. It’s really a side role, though, completely secondary to Warren William’s drably debonair turn as highly distractible gumshoe Ted Shane. Satan Met a Lady is a loose-as-a-flapper’s-fringe adaptation of Dashiell Hammett’s The Maltese Falcon, some five years before John Huston trained his lens on the same story and made a classic. In director William Dieterle’s rendering, the plot twists come across as little more than mounting convolutions. Davis snaps off some fine line readings, but her reported disinterest in the project is evident on screen. The most notable performance in the film belongs to Marie Wilson, weaving comic gold out of the straw of a ditzy secretary part.

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