— by Larry Carroll, with additional reporting by James Cantiello and Christopher Smith
NEW YORK — Asking an actor to put a finger on why people are so interested in "Snakes on a Plane" is a bit like asking why bubble wrap is so much fun to pop. We all know it's a universal truth, but anybody who overanalyzes it is bound to come across a bit silly.
"I think the draw, honestly, is because it's so honest — 'Snakes on a Plane,' it's such a great title," the film's Julianna Margulies recently suggested, analyzing the Internet-driven phenomenon that finally arrives in theaters this weekend. "[The title is] exactly what [the movie is] about, and I think there's something refreshing about that."
"It kind of makes perfect sense," her co-star Bobby Cannavale ("The Night Listener") offered. "I love when people ask what this movie is about. I just say, 'Are you kidding me? What do you think it's about?' "
"I've never heard of snakes being on a plane before," ventured "Saturday Night Live" comic Kenan Thompson. "It is its own genre, one could say."
The face of the "SoaP" phenomenon, however, put all the guessing to rest with the kind of authoritative statement that only Samuel L. Jackson could make — and nobody in their right mind would try to argue with him. "It's the kind of movie that I would have gone to see and spent my whole day watching when I was a kid," he said. "I don't have to think about it; I know what it is. It's 'Snakes on a Plane,' and it's got vicious things biting people."
Simple enough, then. If one thing is to be remembered from the whole "SoaP" build-up, it will hopefully be this: There's no "Dumb and Dumberer" deception with look-alike actors here, no "Miami Vice" bait-and-switch of a brand name for an unrecognizable story, and no "The Family Stone" moment where the audience gets sucker-punched with a cancer scare. Apparently audiences want snakes and they want planes — and dammit, Samuel L. Jackson is gonna give it to 'em.
"We're not pulling the wool over anyone's eyes," promised Margulies, who plays one of the flight attendants aboard serpent-infested Pacific Air flight 121. "We're not trying to be kitsch or clever. It's exactly what it is — and it's hilariously thrilling."
"They want to see the snakes," grinned Cannavale, "and they want to see Sam sweating and cursing."
Which brings us to one of the most unusual selling points of "SoaP." This weekend, millions will pack theaters based simply on the promise that former Oscar-nominee Jackson will finally deliver the line, "I want these mother----in' snakes off this mother----in' plane!" What few realize, however, is that the fan-inspired quote has actually yielded this line in the movie: "Enough is enough! I've had it with these mother----in' snakes on this mother----in' plane!"
Is the change due to copyright concerns? Jackson's own desire to go off-script? The actor isn't saying, but according to him, the most important thing is that a specific expletive has once again found its way into his mouth.
"A lot of people identify me on the golf course at my club because they can hear me three fairways away screaming it," he said of the versatile wonder-word. "It either means I did something very good, or very bad.
"I guess the evolution of it, for me, is because of 'Pulp Fiction,' " Jackson said of the 1994 film that made him a household name as rapid-firing, profanity-spewing hitman Jules Winnfield. "I kinda used the word every way you can use it — as an expletive, as a descriptive, as a term of endearment — all kinds of things. People, interestingly enough, when they meet me expect me to either say it or use it in some way while we're talking. It's just my four-syllable trademark."
Asked if he's been able to maintain the word's power despite its comedic associations with him, Jackson responded with a trademark mix of indignation and disbelief. "Yeah," he shot back, focusing his eyes into an intimidating stare. "Everybody takes me seriously when I use it in real life."
"It wasn't necessarily re-shoots," said director David R. Ellis, discussing the additional photography that the studio ordered last winter once it realized fans wanted more swearing, more snakes and more sex. "We wanted to take the film from a PG-13, which we shot, to an R-rated film, which is what I had initially wanted to make. New Line allowed us to do that, so we got to add all the great dialogue they want to hear from Sam Jackson, more nudity in the mile-high club [scene], more graphic violence and gore."
"They definitely want to see good snake bites, death and boobies," added Thompson. "Something for everyone."
"It's all the stuff that the core audience on the Internet was wanting to see in this kind of movie," concluded Ellis. "You can call them geeks, but I call them fans."
And the rest of the actors, apparently, are more than happy to call them ticket-buyers. "Those Internet nerd people!" Margulies laughed. "I have so many friends who claim to be intellectual, smart people who never watch TV, and they all have tickets for Thursday night."
"I didn't even know too much about [the Internet hype], but then David Ellis called me and said, 'You've got to get on the Internet and type this in,' " Cannavale marveled.
"This is for people that enjoy going to the movies, and don't want to think about what the hell is going on," Jackson said. "[They just want to] sit there, and enjoy it and keep stuffing popcorn in their faces."
Ultimately, "Snakes on a Plane" may be remembered as the silliest little film that ever taught the film industry a big lesson. "Hollywood is going to learn to respect the power of the Internet," Ellis promised when asked about the film's legacy. "[They'll learn] what it can do for you, and they'll sit up and take notice that this is another avenue they should be paying attention to and going after."
With that in mind, Samuel L. Jackson settled on his final sales pitch: "There's all kinds of things in jeopardy here. We've got dogs, we've got kids, we've got babies, fat people and skinny people, people in love, newlyweds and all kinds of stuff. And there are some dangerous things after them."