on a Plane stinks. Badly.

No, I haven’t seen the movie. No one has. New Line is holding the film from critics, which isn’t really all that surprising – this is not a movie that is going to be built on its glowing reviews (although it is shocking that they didn’t even screen it for the people who attended the press junket. Usually the studios won’t let you near the junket if you haven’t seen the film). The groundwork has already been done, first by the pro-bono posters on the internet (pro Chastity Bono, I think), and then by the late but shrewd New Line marketing department. People are going to see the movie based on the buzz, not the critics.

What makes me think that Snakes on a Plane is a royal piece of shit is that, to the best of my knowledge, there have been no promo screenings. Usually you’ll see radio stations or web sites – like CHUD used to do – giving out tickets to screenings a week or so before the movie opens. The people who go to these screenings are supposed to go back to work and school and talk up the movie they saw for free (and they might get some free swag at the screening as well, just to up the odds of having a good time), helping increase that film’s awareness and buzz.

But there have been no promo screenings (again, to the best of my knowledge, and if I am wrong and you saw a promo screening and have a review, send it in and I’ll run it – as long as you can prove you saw a screening), which makes it obvious that even the Snakes on a Plane fanbase – people EXPECTING a piece of shit movie, by the way – will be sorely disappointed. Think about it: New Line has come to the conclusion that the people who want to laugh at the movie in theaters will walk out of the promo screenings emitting nothing but bad buzz.

This means that Snakes on a Plane is probably the worst kind of bad movie, the just plain old boring bad one. Some movies are so bad as to be laughable, or to be profoundly bizarre and thus fascinating. Ed Wood is the most obvious example of a guy who made these kinds of films, but there are many others out there. Deadbeat by Dawn is a really awful movie, but it’s made with a weird conviction that makes it sort of compelling. Roadhouse is a movie that skirts competence, but is still wildly watchable. And I can’t get enough of Flash Gordon, a movie that manages to balance right on the razor’s edge of purposefully campy badness and actual bad filmmaking badness.

But then there are the movies that are just tedious to sit through, like Battlefield Earth or Staying Alive, and if I had to bet money, I would say Snakes on a Plane is one of those. I repeat that I haven’t seen the film yet, but my guess is that the reshoots killed the movie: the film was originally shot as a pretty straight thriller, and playing a movie with this concept straight faced is midnight movie gold. But when the internet took notice of this seemingly impossibly grand turd in the making, the filmmakers went back and made the movie more gonzo, and probably more knowingly and winkingly wacky. Nothing kills the fun of a bad movie like the film knowing and acknowledging that it’s bad.

That’s conjecture. No one will know until late Thursday night, when the first public screenings happen. Honestly, I’m a little happy that there were no screenings – I think I’m so sick of this movie already that I’m predisposed to hating it. I’ll probably just wait until DVD to see it.

One nice thing that this has brought about, though, is yet another “Do critics matter?” piece, this time in the LA Times. Pat Goldstein pulled out the old chestnut about studios not screening movies for critics and about movies that are widely panned going on to make tons of money (which AO Scott just wrote about in the New York Times, by the way). I don’t think this is all that new a phenomenon (although the no screenings thing sort of is, and it’s troubling as well. Foreign critics do not see movies until after they’re out, and I’m concerned that studios may start warming up to that idea in the States. I guess if they do start doing that I’ll just have to write more and more editorials about how movies I haven’t seen yet suck) – the tastes of the critical establishment and the public have never really lined up. And who cares, really? 90 percent or more of the “critics” out there today are total garbage anyway, and keeping capsule reviewers out of screenings is no big deal. I can’t stand the guys who write what are essentially “Consumer Reports” guides to the movies. I want to read critics who give thought and analysis about a movie, who don’t just go to screenings and give a thumbs up or down but who look at what a movie is and what it means.

But that’s an editorial for another day (and one I have been threatening to write for a very, very long time). It’ll be interesting to see what the word is coming out of the Thursday night screenings of Snakes on a Plane, screenings that will likely be filled with critics who will be eager to get home and write up a scathing review just to show New Line. I won’t be one of them, though.

Nick’s take.