Who Cares Who’s In It
The state of satire and parody in American cinema has reached a new low, thanks to the inexcusable Soul Plane, a guaranteed member of my year-end worst of the year list. It is difficult to be too hard on this film, however, since its target audience is the low I.Q., sloped-forehead set, and whatever it is that such a group expected, they no doubt received. The set-up: Nashawn (Kevin Hart) wins a $100 million lawsuit after an airline kills his dog and forces him to endure the humiliation of getting stuck in an airplane toilet. With his riches, Nashawn starts his own airline (N.W.A.) and vows to treat his customers with more respect and a sense of fun. His motto, after all, is “We fly, we party, we land.” Of course, Neshawn also intends to exploit every possible black stereotype with his new airline, including having low class passengers pass around a bucket of Popeye’s, the screeners feel up every passenger who looks even remotely “like Denzel,” and every woman who is intended to be appealing has big tits, one helluva an ass, and no brain to speak of.
And we also have Tom Arnold as Mr. Hunkee (pronounced “Honkey,” if you couldn’t figure that out), who, with his family, are the only white people on board and are, of course, square, clueless, and uncool (and have just returned from a vacation to Crackerland). Needless to say, Hunkee’s new girlfriend and daughter both harbor buried lust for big-dicked black men, and the wife succumbs after picking up a copy of “Black and Proud” magazine and seeing a young buck who is, according to sources, “hung like a firehose.” And yes, because the daughter is a hot young thing, the best way for her to get back at her dad is to go to a dance club (yes, on the plane) and flirt with the black bartender.
The pilot, one Captain Mack, is played by Snoop Dogg, and he spends his time smoking pot, screaming at his co-pilot, and sleeping, before succumbing to a bad batch of African mushrooms. Nashawn had instructed his cousin to hire a black pilot, which means that the only one that could be found is an ex-con who received his flight training with members of the Taliban. Another high-class concept includes a blind first class passenger who hits on every woman he comes in contact with. This eventually leads to a scene where the blind man thinks he is fingering the woman in the next seat, when in reality he is probing a baked potato covered in sour cream. And that leads to the same man stumbling to the bathroom, where he tells the attendant that he has “stinky pinky.” Normally, I wouldn’t have been bothered by such a scene, but I did pause when I heard a young child, perhaps as young as ten, laughing his ass off to the whole thing. I shudder to think where he learned about stinky pinkies.
And then there’s the “Mile High Club” couple who have sex in the bathroom, the cockpit, and eventually on the landing gear as the plane makes its descent. We are also shown an Arab passenger who is called “Osama,” and treated with such contempt that I have no doubt the dimwitted among us found it amusing and, in their own way, empowering. Low class passengers, in addition to the fried chicken, also get to sip Colt .45 malt liquor. The terminal (called the Malcolm X terminal, what else?) contains a basketball court, 99 Cent stores, and Chicken & Waffles stands, while the plane (purple and fitted with 84-inch rims and hydraulics) has a hot tub, music video recording area, and video games for the crew.
In many ways, this is just a harmless summer comedy that is intended to give you a few laughs without a moment’s thought. This isn’t pointed drama or a sociological treatise, so who really cares if everything is a gross stereotype or constantly reaches for the lowest common denominator? To a certain extent, I agree. Soul Plane will come and go so quickly that its impact will be non-existent. Nevertheless, I have to ask a tough question that no one else seems willing to offer — is this the best that black filmmakers can do? Black writers and directors are certainly under no obligation to make art every time out of the chute (hell, white filmmakers are responsible for more garbage than anyone else), but why must we endure these crass, unfunny comedies year after year and still hear complaints of a racist system that keeps the brothers down? If the box office is any guide, only black comedies make any money (Barbershop, Friday), so perhaps this is a problem of potential audience. There will be those who say that the money isn’t there for serious, contemplative works, and I for one will agree with them. But instead of pointing blame at the funding side of the equation, I’ll lock on the lack of demand.
But more than this being an issue of racial politics and the state of art in America, this is a matter of humor. Soul Plane is predictably juvenile, but so was Airplane!, and that film still makes me laugh. The major difference between the two films, of course, is that Airplane! targeted movies like Airport and Airport 1975, movies that took themselves way too seriously and came to us with open hands, asking that we find genuine drama and pathos in their soap opera silliness. As the disaster films of the 1970s were garnering awards and taking on an air of smug self-satisfaction, movies like Airplane! came along to burst their bubble. Only then did we realize how moronic those dramas really were. With Soul Plane, nothing at all is being satirized, even by accident. We laugh, I guess, because we all “know” that black men love white pussy, black women are sassy hos with tits that just can’t stay inside of their shirts, and nothing spells comedy like a doped up hip-hop star who never learned how to fly piloting a jumbo jetc. Even the barrage of jokes — Catholic priests are gay, Halle Berry isn’t really black, gays get hysterical during a crisis, old women read magazines called “Good in the Sack” — fall flat because we could anticipate every single one. Even dumb comedies can be self-aware, and this forgettable nonsense didn’t even try. Why do we laugh? Why should we laugh? If we thought about such questions in the case of Soul Plane, we might not like the answer.