Some clever person was bound to come up with the idea eventually. I can practically see the thought-bubble now: "Hmmm, what if I could somehow mix Normal Joe & Jane's two biggest fears -- snakes & planes -- into one crazy movie! I could call it ... Snakes on a Plane! Who cares how outlandishly stupid it sounds?!?! It's about snakes ... on a plane! It practially writes (and directs) itself!"

And thus, the cinematic fad of 2006 was born: Samuel L. Jackson battling snakes on a plane bound from Hawaii to Los Angeles. The whys and the hows of the situation are of varying degrees of unimportance; this movie's got snakes on a plane, baby. But after all the hoopla, hype and heat -- how fun is it, really?

Well, the flick's a big sloppy mess. Honestly. It's shot blandly and cut together sloppily; the dialogue is ripe and the characters are simps; the filler (plot) material that pops up between the semi-frequent snake attacks is actually quite snooze-worthy; most of the FX are lame; there's no third act ... I could go on with the foibles. But I'd be lying if I said that Snakes on a Plane doesn't get three kinds of slickly exciting once those damn snakes start snappin'. Judged on the simplest merit system, Snakes on a Plane delivers precisely what its pulpy title promises -- but not a whole lot more.

Samuel L. Jackson plays FBI agent Neville Flynn, a no-nonsense professional who's tasked with bringing an important government witness across the Pacific Ocean. But the murderer, a ruthless gangster public enemy #1 sort of guy, hatches an outrageously elaborate plan: Spray the plane down with snake pheromones and let loose a huge crate of the slithering creatures... voila, a recipe for B-movie mayhem. And when Snakes on a Plane sticks to its generous portions of snake mayhem, the thing does manage to be quite darkly amusing and goofily entertaining -- even if the flick is pure Guilty Pleasure material all the way.

Jackson does a fine job as the relatively mild-mannered hero guy, and the background is populated by a few colorful actors (pilot David Koechner, snooty gal Rachel Blanchard, video game addict Kenan Thompson, stewardesses Julianna Margulies & Sunny Mabrey) asked to play only the broadest types of characters imaginable. Fortunately, most of the other supporting characters (mainly the faces you don't recognize) exist as nothing but snake-fodder, shrieking caricatures whose sole purpose is to get bitten, poisoned or devoured in semi-creative ways.

Those who've been following the months-long "SOAP" phenomenon will no doubt remember that director David R. Ellis (Cellular, Final Destination 2) was allowed to go back and do a bunch of "nasty-type" reshoots, in an effort to bump the flick up from a toothless PG-13 version to a more fang-baring R-rated cut ... and those new moments really do show. Those looking for a crash course in the game of "Spot the Pick-up Shots" will have no trouble recognizing which material was wedged in at the last minute. The line of dialogue that the fans most wanted to hear ("I have had it with these mfin' snakes of this mfin' plane!") is haphazardly squished into a dialogue scene that doesn't want it, and the fun of hearing the line is pretty much nullified by the hamfisted way in which it arrives. And don't even get me started on the "bare boobies" reshoot scene. I was surrounded by 16-year-olds who definitely appreciated the knockers -- but they were also laughing AT the film for tipping its hand so blatantly.

So while it's only fair to judge a "mindless popcorn movie" on the level to which it aspires, the simple fact is that there's good schlock and there's bad schlock. Snakes on a Plane falls somewhere in the middle, because it delivers the high-flying and slithery goods in fairly generous fashion, but the thing's just riddled with basic filmmaking flubs, pointlessly slow spots and a handful of real head-slappers and plot-danglers. It's a half-empty gumball machine of an action / comedy / disaster / horror flick, and while Snakes on a Plane isn't nearly as tight and twisted as it could have been, it'll no doubt tickle its intended audience endlessly.