Review: ‘Plane’ is the tale of a jet that gets struck by lightning, crash-lands into an island of terrorists but is saved by Gerard Butler. I enjoyed it.

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In the pitch-meeting stage, “Plane” carried the title “The Plane,” and now it doesn’t. All excess cargo, even if it’s three letters — out the window! There’s too much to handle with this thing already!

Extreme turbulence, a lightning strike, a crash landing onto the bullet-strewn island of Sulu in the Philippines … a commercial airline pilot teaming up with his toughest passenger (formerly of the French Foreign Legion, wanted for murder) to deal with militant separatists and soar once again to freedom … who says they don’t give you anything when you fly basic economy?

Right now the killer doll movie “M3GAN” is enjoying a critical reception a little above its quality grade, and I’m here to do the same for “Plane.” It’s the junky, janky midwinter Liam Neeson thriller we used to get with that first flip of the calendar, only this one stars Gerard Butler and is directed by Jean-Francois Richet, whose two-part gangster biopic “Mesrine” was pretty juicy. This one’s more pulp than juice, but it’s enjoyable.

Puerto Rico plays the role of the Philippines. Sent straight into the world’s worst weather by some cost-conscious factotum with an unfortunate mustache, Capt. Brodie Torrance just wants to get to Maui to meet up with his daughter for vacation. But he’s basically the Job of modern aviation, budget airline division, beset by fools and threats even before it’s wheels up.

Between the scowling extradited killer (”Evil’s” Mike Colter, a serious movie-improver) in the back row, in handcuffs, the lightning storm and the threat of an “uncontrolled descent,” the movie itself relishes its own uncontrolled descent into ridiculousness. On the island, “Plane” becomes a ground war between Butler and Colter and a clan of separatists eager to take some new hostages. Now and then, the violence is filmed for quasi-reality. Eventually, there’s no quasi- about it, and the movie settles for a gamer-style melee of terrorist-disposal and CGI splurches, handled a little better than usual. (That makes up for the aerial CGI, which is a little not-better than usual.)

So why does “Plane” work, at least for some of us? One: a slightly different, less overscaled performance this time from Butler. He lets the scenario’s escalating mayhem do the overacting this time, while he and Colter go about their business of establishing trust under fire and bonding like men who respect each other’s killing abilities.

Two: Brodie may be a superman, but he’s semi-human, sometimes. There’s a “Captain Phillips”-type moment in the epilogue where Brodie, after all he’s been through, after not one but two rough flights and one lousy layover in Terror World, breaks down and lets the cumulative bloodshed and clichés of the previous hour and a half take its toll. Does the moment work? Well, this is no “Captain Phillips,” which gave Tom Hanks, in his breakdown scene, one of his finest, truest screen minutes ever. But it’s better than nothing.

Three: “Plane,” as laid out by screenwriters Charles Cumming and J.P. Davis, keeps just enough balls in the air, and on the ground, to feel like something’s happening. Back in New York, the airline’s shadowy crisis management guru (Tony Goldwyn) tasks a team of private contractor commandos to help out Brodie and company. Some of the acting is pretty ripe — the worst-behaved passenger, both as written and portrayed, is just asking for death the second he opens his mouth — but a few effective players emerge, notably Yoson An as the empathetic co-pilot and Daniella Pineda as a stalwart flight attendant keeping the passengers updated on the latest crises.

“That was the best movie I’ve seen this year!” said the woman ahead of me, coming out of the theater after the screening. That’s mid-January for you: It only seems like a year, instead of a couple of weeks. But I suspect I will think fondly of “Plane” a few months from now. That, or ask somebody what the hell was the name of that Gerard Butler plane movie.

“Plane” — 3 stars (out of 4)

MPA rating: R (for violence and language)

Running time: 1:47

How to watch: Premieres in theaters Jan. 12

Michael Phillips is a Tribune critic.

Twitter @phillipstribune