One of the small graces of having the glut of high-concept Hollywood movies postponed since April is the space that has been made for independent film. An impressive roster of smaller budget films has reestablished faith in the art of filmmaking, especially when it pertains to making personal and experimental films. Writer-director-actor Andrew Lawrence’s Money Plane fails to join this cohort in terms of substance or craft but it does harken back to a bygone age when martial arts champions like Don “The Dragon” Wilson made straight-to-VHS action movies for the shelves of Blockbuster Video. Those were bad movies, as is this one, though some of the cheese here is homage while the rest is a product of format. The film’s only surprise is its competent cast led by Thomas Jane and Kelsey Grammer in showy yet memorable supporting roles. They almost seem to be there as a favor to the father of the film’s multi-hyphenate creator. Lawrence is the little brother of the former sitcom star Joey Lawrence, who somehow manages to look younger and healthier here than a brother 12-years his junior. Heavy is the head that wears the auteur crown no matter the level of filmmaking.

The movie derives its title from a flying casino where the worst criminals in the world go to gamble in traditional ways like poker to more horrific wagers like the time it takes a man to die from a cobra bite. Grammer plays a mob boss known as the Rumble and he’s entangled the world’s greatest thief in his scheme to rob the money plane and the dangerous people onboard. The thief is Jack Reese (Adam “Edge” Copeland of WWE fame), a former Air Force captain, and his small crew consists of an assassin, Isabella (Katrina Norman), a tech whiz, Trey (Patrick Lamont, Jr.) and a driver, Iggy (Andrew Lawrence). They owe the Rumble a debt and he’s upped the ante by threatening all their families should they consider refusing his offer, so aliases are established and a heist gets underway.

Reese may not be a mob boss but he has resources of his own in Jane’s Harry, an old Air Force pal and godfather to his daughter. Harry is just a phone call away and Reese uses that lifeline when the job on the money plane starts to smell like a double-cross. The crew has had little trouble navigating the money plane’s management as personified by the Concierge (Joey Lawrence) and the Bookkeeper (Al Sapienza), but betrayal is trouble they don’t need. If they keep their heads together the crew will be able to pull off this last caper, head into retirement and exhaust every trope in the action movie playbook.

The script is ludicrous in many ways but two aspects are glaring and deserve attention. The money plane seems to run on the reputation of consequence alone. Apart from one beefy guard by the safe, there are few obstacles blocking the crew from their goal. The second is how Copeland is utilized. With his leonine appearance, he looks like he’s just stepped off the set of a knockoff Thor movie and his pedigree as a professional wrestler leads to the expectation that some decent action is in the offing. Unfortunately, he spends most of the heist sitting in a cockpit, a strange choice given his physicality. As for the remainder of the lesser-known cast, Norman is having a great time playing Isabella, the practitioner of all the major combat. There are no small parts for Grammer, who attacks his role like a man who didn’t get to say the word “fuck” enough during his 20-year run as Frasier Crane while Jane proves he has charisma to spare in a movie that has no business having any.

Ultimately, what Lawrence has made is a movie of few charms that cannot be recommended. The best that can be said is that it’s a more enjoyable experience than the low-budget action fare Bruce Willis has appeared in lately.

The only surprise here is the film’s competent cast led by Thomas Jane and Kelsey Grammer in showy yet memorable supporting roles.
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Plane Wreck

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