2 stars (out of four)
"Flightplan" is a thriller of passive virtues, the steely intensity of Jodie Foster notwithstanding. It's not too violent. It's not assaultive. Even James Horner's music plays it cool. Everything from the icy blue palette of the cinematography to the icy blue glare of its star speaks to a mood that is somber rather than hyperkinetic. How could it be otherwise, with Foster playing a grief-stricken widow who loses her 6-year-old daughter on the world's largest jumbo jet?
There's no substitute for clever plotting, however, and "Flightplan" doesn't have it. In the end it's no less preposterous than the recent, similarly plane-bound affair, "Red Eye." But it's a lot less fun.
In Foster's previous feature film, "Panic Room" (2002), she played a single mother whose life and daughter were being threatened by bad men in tight quarters. "Flightplan" may as well be called "Panicplane." Foster's character, Kyle Pratt, is a propulsion engineer whose husband recently killed himself jumping off their Berlin apartment building. With the husband's casket on board, Kyle and daughter Julia (Marlene Lawston) depart the Berlin airport for New York on the (fictional) E-474 airliner, a multi-level marvel full of potential hiding places. Kyle worked on the engine design, and knows the plane well. This comes in handy.
Somewhere over the Atlantic Kyle and Julia take a long nap, and when Kyle awakens her child has vanished. The flight log has no record of Julia. Even the stewardesses can't vouch for her existence. Kyle may be cracking up, or at least the screenplay by Peter A. Dowling and Billy Ray would have you believe as much. Yet from the start, with so many characters--Anglos, Arabs, passengers and crew--exchanging meaningful untrustworthy glances, in first class, business class AND coach, Kyle's sanity is never seriously in doubt. (There is, in fact, a meaningful untrustworthy glance early on between a major supporting character and one of the flight crew that gives the whole game away.)
Foster knows how to tone up a so-so thriller. It's not just a matter of being able to say things like, "You've gotta search the holds! Now!" with feral commitment. It's a matter of scoring the beats leading up to such lines. With Foster, you always sense a tight coil and a short fuse. In a way Foster's always in an emotional panic room of one kind or another: No actor is better at detailing gradations of contained hysteria without getting panicky or phony about it.
Director Robert Schwentke's camera swoops and glides around the jumbo jet like a hawk, yet "Flightplan" gets sillier and less tense the closer it gets to its major revelations and a climax involving a bomb. When the bomb is detonated--and of course I won't say who does it--it's ridiculous; the character would never, ever detonate it under the circumstances. The actors can't do anything about such narrative missteps. All Foster can do is play the daylights out of every scene. Her wary, darting eyes are in extreme contrast to those of sleepy-lidded Peter Sarsgaard, who plays a U.S. air marshal skeptical of Foster's story. Sarsgaard's an interesting actor in the right role, but this role, not so right: He's almost fatally low-keyed, as if he isn't sure he even wanted to play this guy.
It's a good thing--an OK thing, at least--that Foster is intense enough for both of them.
Directed by Robert Schwentke; screenplay by Peter A. Dowling and Billy Ray; cinematography by Florian Ballhaus; production design by Alexander Hammond; music by James Horner; edited by Thom Noble; produced by Brian Grazer. A Touchstone Pictures/Imagine Entertainment release; opens Friday. Running time: 1:33. MPAA rating: PG-13 (violence and some intense plot material).
Kyle - Jodie Foster
Carson - Peter Sarsgaard
Capt. Rich - Sean Bean
Stephanie - Kate Beahan
Fiona - Erika Christensen
Therapist - Greta ScacchiCopyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times