Nashawn Wade (Kevin Hart) has a horrible experience with a typical airline: his dog Dre was classified as a checked baggage instead of a carry-on, he eats a horrible airline meal, his buttocks gets stuck in the toilet during turbulence, and Nashawn's dog is sucked through a jet engine (after a stewardess accidentally opens the cargo door). In response, he sues the airline and is awarded $100,000,000 by the jury. He decides to use the money to start his own airline, called N.W.A. (Nashawn Wade Airlines), whose acronym and logo are a pop culture reference to rap group N.W.A. The airline specifically caters to African Americans and hip hop culture. The terminal at the airport is called the Malcolm X terminal, the plane is a heavily modified Boeing 747SP, customized with low-rider hydraulics, spinners, blended winglets to compensate for the drag from the decorations, and a dance club. The safety video is also a spoof of the Destiny's Child song "Survivor".
After taking off from Los Angeles International Airport, Nashawn must deal with a multitude of problems, starting with his acrophobic captain, Captain Mack (Snoop Dogg). At a cruising altitude of Flight Level 330, it is revealed that he has never left the ground because he learned to fly on computer simulators in prison. Meanwhile, his cousin Muggsey (Method Man), sets up a miniature casino and strip joint in one of the areas of the plane (as seen in the workprint and unrated versions of the film), and Nashawn's ex-girlfriend is on board and less than happy to see him. Meanwhile, the Hunkee family, the only caucasian passengers on board, must also deal with their own problems; Elvis Hunkee's (Tom Arnold) daughter is turning eighteen and plans to use her newfound freedom by drinking and having sex, his son has transformed from an exact duplicate of him to a stereotypical wigger, and his wife has found a new interest in black men after viewing pictures in a pornographic magazine.
The pilot seemingly dies after eating mushrooms that the co-pilot, First Officer Gaemon (Godfrey), uses to soothe his genital crabs. Nashawn attempts to contact Gaemon, who is incapacitated after slipping near a hot tub, forcing Nashawn to attempt to land the plane himself. Nashawn lands the plane safely, using the airplane stewardess' (Sofía Vergara) flight knowledge which she learned while having sex in the cockpit with the pilot on another plane. The plane lands in the middle of Central Park instead of John F. Kennedy International Airport, and the spinners are stolen from the plane. Nashawn reconciles with his ex-girlfriend after earlier revealing to her that he only broke up with her so she would not give up her college opportunities for him.
The movie ends with Nashawn telling the audience the fate of his crew. He claims that he and his ex-girlfriend are back together taking their relationship slow this time around, his cousin Muggsey has started a strip club and gambling casino located in another airplane similar to the club in Nashawn's plane, Elvis Hunkee has begun a sexual relationship with one of the abrasive airline security guards (Mo'Nique), and Elvis Hunkee's son has become a major music video director but has disappeared shortly after filming a Michael Jackson video. The pilot later wakes up with both his chain and clothing stolen.
Soul Plane opened on May 28, 2004 in 1,566 theaters. In its opening weekend, the film made $5,648,486 in the domestic box office, ranking number five behind Shrek 2, The Day After Tomorrow, Troy, and Raising Helen. At the end of its run, the film grossed $14,190,750 domestically and $631,596 overseas for a worldwide total of $14,822,346.
In an interview on the podcast WTF with Marc Maron, Hart said that part of the reason for the poor box office turnout was due to bootlegging, which had apparently begun three months before the film was released in theaters. He explained, "on the street, [Soul Plane] made 40 million dollars". Hart told Marc Maron that during a premiere, fans were coming up to him asking him to sign copies of the bootleg. Hart does, however, credit Soul Plane for making him popular enough to start touring around the country.
The film received negative reviews from critics. Review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes gave it an 18% from a total of 99 reviews with a consensus stating, "A raunchy sendup of Airplane! that never really takes off." On Metacritic, the film has a 33/100 rating based on 26 reviews, indicating "generally unfavorable reviews". Stephen Holden of The New York Times says in his review: "This hectic farce, which pushes every envelope, is so broad and relentlessly raunchy that it makes a spoof like Airplane seem as demure as a vintage drawing-room comedy."
In late 2014, the film appeared on Empire magazine's users-voted list of "The 50 Worst Movies Ever", ranking number 47. Its given reason for being listed states: "This was billed as an "urban" take on Airplane! That's a bad idea to begin with: like Scary Movie, parodies of a parody are on to a loser from the start. But with the addition of crude racial stereotyping (of all races) and a fatal lack of funny, this goes from bad to worst. If more voters had seen it, this would be in the top ten."
In The Boondocks episode "...Or Die Trying", the Freemans see Soul Plane 2: The Blackjacking, featuring a terrorist plot to blow up a nuclear power plant using the Soul Plane. Series cast members John Witherspoon (Granddad), Gary Anthony Williams (Uncle Ruckus), and recurring guests Snoop Dogg (Macktastic), and Mo'Nique (various characters) reprise their roles as the blind man, Flame, Captain Mack, and Jamiqua respectively. Also in the Netflix series, Master of None, Aziz Ansari's character, Dev, refers to a fictional sequel entitled 'Soul Plane 3: This is How We Flew It.' The title refers to Montell Jordan's song 'This Is How We Do It.' Young Thug mentions Soul Plane in the remix of The Weeknd's song Reminder, also featuring ASAP Rocky by quoting, "All my double cups purple like the soul plane"