It's 'Panic Room' at 37,000 feet

Staff WriterSeptember 23, 2005 

Jodie Foster plays a very worried mother who appears to have lost her daughter in the middle of a trans-Atlantic flight.

In "Flightplan," Jodie Foster gets panicky -- again.

Going for what made her some box office loot last time, Foster spends most of the movie looking anxious and fearful, just the way she looked in "Panic Room." But, instead of her and her daughter hiding from thugs in a gigantic New York brownstone, she's trying to find her child in a gigantic airliner, which is the real star of the show.

German director Robert Schwentke covers every nook and cranny of the plane with the same fetishistic, DePalma-esque detail David Fincher covered in that brownstone in "Room." And just like in "Room," the set design (production designer Alexander Hammond should get a plane of his own for designing this one) makes a more lasting impression than what goes on in the rest of the movie. There's a good chance you'll be more wowed by how expansive and decked-out the plane is than any of the action onboard.

Foster is Kyle Pratt, an airplane designer still shellshocked over the death of her husband. She is traveling from Berlin to New York, 6-year-old daughter (Marlene Lawston) in tow, to bury him. Halfway through the flight, the girl disappears, and Pratt becomes frantic to find her. That includes freaking out other passengers when she begins to think her child has been kidnapped.

Her fellow travelers start wondering if this gal is delusional since no one saw her come aboard with a child, and that includes the stewardesses, the beleaguered captain (Sean Bean) and an air marshal (Peter Sarsgaard), who suddenly becomes responsible for this possibly unhinged widow.

"Flightplan" suffers from a common problem among well-made action thrillers. It's what I call "first-half-itis." The first half succeeds in getting the audience's full attention, but the second half, complete with a weak payoff, falters and lags. Schwentke spends the first half getting everything moody and tense and claustrophobic and paranoid, throwing in red herrings and a bit of post-9/11 social commentary by dropping Middle Eastern passengers into the mix. Then, his film gets simple faster than you can say "Don't call me Shirley." The "big twist" climax is not only inevitable, it doesn't make that much sense. It also reeks of last-minute reshoots, which throws the whole tone off. (Keep an eye on one character's hair, which turns mullet almost immediately.)

Yes, "Flightplan" is "Panic Room" at 37,000 feet. But it could've been a whole lot better. It also could've been a whole lot cleverer. For example, it would've been so cool if Foster, making her umpteenth lap around the plane, passed Rachel McAdams and Cillian Murphy, re-creating a scene from their recent in-the-sky thriller "Red Eye." Sadly, that never happens, and "Flightplan" becomes yet another tightly packed nail biter that loses altitude at an alarming rate. *

Staff writer Craig D. Lindsey can be reached at 829-4760 or clindsey@newsobserver.com.

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