A Brief History of Samuel L. Jackson
Published: Thursday, January 11, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, January 11, 2007 at 12:24 a.m.
There is a beauty to the simplicity of "Snakes on a Plane." It is so simply that the title also serves as a plot synopsis. That means I've already told you the entire premise for the film, and weıre only one paragraph in. People are trapped on a plane with a bunch of snakes, and that's all there is to it.
So what makes this movie special? Can it compare to classic trash like "Anaconda" or regular trash like "Anacondas"? What makes it different from the typical made-for-cable-TV movie of the week on Sci Fi Channel?
If the makers of "Snakes on a Plane" really wanted to tell the audience what to expect, they should have gone the full monty and called it "Snakes on a Plane Versus Samuel L. Jackson." Because quite frankly, as both a movie critic and a fan of bad movies, the premise of snakes on a passenger plane sounds pretty stupid - but the idea of Samuel Jackson, Mr. "Great Vengeance and Furious Anger" himself, trapped in such a ridiculous premise, sounds stupid like a fox.
Jackson is indeed the glue that binds "Snakes on a Plane" into a fun movie. He has a screen presence, an intensity, that lends some credibility to whatever he is in. In this film, he plays a no-nonsense cop - and as you might expect he is cool under fire, fearless, smart, take-charge, and prone to yelling at people. More than anything, Jackson is good at yelling.
As for the movie itself, it is silly but fun. The snakes are mostly done with CGI, which is very obvious and very corny, but since everything about the film celebrates corniness, it is forgivable. There are lots of snakebites, gross deaths, near-death escapes, and every other cliche in the handbook. But it does have a sense of humor about itself, which raises it up from the level of B-movie garbage to B-movie goodness.
"Snakes" is far from the first film that Jackson has saved with his mere presence. In fact, Jackson has been in so many bad movies it's surprising that he continues to be as popular as he is. Since hitting the big time as a leading man, his track record has been pretty awful - the only thing that is consistent is that he is the best part of these movies.
Jackson, much like Christopher Walken, is able to sparkle like a diamond even in a sea of offal. That is to say, even if the movie stinks, you can count on these guys to be funny, intense and always thoroughly entertaining.
Case in point, the boilerplate high school basketball drama "Coach Carter." Jackson plays the title role, a no-nonsense man drafted to whip a group of unruly inner-city kids into a basketball team. There's nothing special about the movie, but Jackson's intensity helps to carry it to watchable status - most of the running time is spent with him yelling at the kids, and watching him tear into teenagers just never get old.
There was also "xXx," "xXx2: State of the Union," "Twisted," "Formula 51," "S.W.A.T.," "The Man," "Kiss of Death," and "Sphere." But through all of this dreck, Jackson has managed to remain an island of coolness unto himself.
Only about half of his movies are bad. The other half tend to be pretty good, and once in a while he's in something truly special.
Jackson started as an actor in the early '70s, appearing mostly in TV shows. Although he had lots of credits to his name, his career didn't really start taking off until the late '80s, when he made small but notable appearances in several Spike Lee films, and "Goodfellas."
Jackson played this momentum into the '90s, where it was common for him to appear in four of five films a year. By the end of the decade, he was so well established as a character actor that George Lucas hired him to spice up the "Star Wars" movies.
Think of it - in 10 years he went from playing Black Guy in "Sea of Love" (no kidding, his character is listed as "Black Guy") to playing the mack daddy of the Jedi Knights. Not too shabby.
Everyone knows of Jackson's big hits, like "Star Wars," "Pulp Fiction," "Die Hard 3," and "Jurassic Park," so I wanted to go the opposite route and recommend some of his best, and most overlooked, films.
"Jungle Fever" let it be known that as menacing and powerful as Jackson can be, he also plays a good crackhead. His turn in as a junkie in "Jungle Fever" is quite possibly the best crackhead acting ever caught on film.
"Eve's Bayou" - Jackson is featured in a much quieter role in this family drama set in small town Louisiana. He plays a doctor, with a tendency for cheating on his wife with his patients. When one of his daughters catches him in the act, it changes the family in tragic ways.
"Fresh" - The star of this film is Sean Nelson, as a boy wise beyond his years. When he and his sister are caught up in the life of drug dealers, Fresh uses the chess lessons taught by his father (Jackson) to play the dealers against one another. A unique and engrossing film that almost no one has heard of.
"The Long Kiss Goodnight" - A solid all-around action flick, this movie is kicked up a notch by Jackson as a long-suffering private eye. And it features one of Jackson's best scenes - after being thrown out of a car, Jackson simply lays on his back, staring up at the night sky, and lights a cigarette.
"The Boondocks" - This cartoon from Adult Swim memorably features Jackson as the voice of Gin Rummy. His intense shouting proves equally adept for comedy as it does for drama.
"Def by Temptation" - This black-themed vampire flick is not very good, admittedly, but seeing Jackson as the Minister Garth serves as a fun trip through the Way-Back Machine.
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