Positioned as a next-generation “Airplane!” with an African-American flavor, “Soul Plane” begins as a high-spirited romp before running out of gas and ideas about halfway up the tarmac. The initial energy and hard-working cast yield a few belly laughs that should generate goodwill and a decent showing at the box office gates, but the haul will be considerably lower than it might have been had the script and story been properly serviced.
Exploiting every black stereotype imaginable and sparing little in the way of sexual and scatological references, pic nevertheless possesses an over-the-top exuberance that’s good fun for awhile.
Yet what’s clearly meant to tap into the same audience that made “Barbershop” a hit figures to come up short with both white and black audiences, lacking enough character development to ground the wackiness while exhausting the joke supply about halfway through a relatively brief voyage.
After a humiliating experience aboard a big commercial carrier, aimless twentysomething Nashawn Wade (Kevin Hart) receives a $100 million judgment he decides to put to use launching his own airline — christened, of course, NWA.
Granted, it’s more South Central than Southwest, with a bright purple exterior, oversized wheels, a super-ritzy first class and downscale “low class,” where even the upholstery on the seats don’t match. A randy security worker (Mo’Nique) feels up handsome male passengers, and far from the usual safety video, the sexed-up stewardesses sing the Destiny’s Child ditty “Survivor.”
Flanked by his cousin Muggsy (Method Man), Nashawn’s inaugural flight — under a doobie-smoking, just-paroled pilot, played by Snoop Dogg — is complicated when an old flame winds up on board, wearing an engagement ring.
So far, so good, but not long after takeoff, it becomes clear the creative tank is running low. The few relationships that could provide any kind of a story arc never lift off — from Nashawn’s former g.f. (K.D. Aubert) to Tom Arnold, who has apparently never met a part he didn’t like. On vacation with his trophy girlfriend and kids, he winds up on the flight essentially to provide a whitey’s-eye-view of the proceedings.
Tyro feature director Jessy Terrero sticks to his musicvideo roots and keeps the volume high — milking what he can from Bo Zenga and Chuck Wilson’s script, which certainly doesn’t shy away from potentially offensive material. Arnold refers to a black guy as “Kobe” when he gets too near his teenage daughter (Arielle Kebbel); security sandwiches an Arab passenger; and sundry jokes play out in the oversized bathroom, where D.L. Hughley is stationed as an attendant.
For the most part, the general tone of irreverence lets such excesses draw a pass, though a chronically horny couple obsessed with membership in the “mile-high club” wouldn’t be missed had someone thought to hit the “erase” button.
Despite the pic’s limitations, standup Hart exhibits promise here — as he has in ABC’s defunct sitcom “The Big House,” exuding a likable quality even in such zany surroundings; still, he can’t flesh out his character amid the sprawling cast that’s in on the action.
The upbeat score (including a title song by Snoop Dogg) is the only tech credit of note, with “Soul Plane” obviously operating on a discount budget before making a rather abrupt landing. When the film makes a sly reference to being the equivalent of “JetBlack,” the impression is it isn’t kidding.