Just because you’re paranoid, doesn’t mean everyone isn’t out to get you, as Jodie Foster learns the hard way in the boilerplate, if histrionically entertaining, airline thriller “Flightplan.” An amped-up psychological thriller in a tube, “Flightplan” makes good use of the natural free-floating anxiety, claustrophobia and hostility that are par for the course on any routine transatlantic flight, especially in coach, to tell the story of an overwrought supermom flexing her moral authority at 30,000 feet.
Kyle Pratt (Foster), mother, aeronautics engineer, raw nerve, is understandably shaken after the sudden death of her husband, who was killed when he fell off the roof of their Berlin apartment building. A week after the accident, she and her 6-year-old daughter, Julia (Marlene Lawston), prepare to take the body back to New York for burial. When Julia disappears three hours into the flight, Kyle discovers that not only do none of the passengers or crew members remember setting eyes on the girl, but her name has disappeared from the passenger log and the airport has no record of her ever having boarded the plane.
Naturally, the flight crew members take this information as their cue to apply the iron-hand in kid glove treatment; and from this point forward, Kyle is on full auto-pother, air-raging up and down the aisles in a wide-eyed frenzy of righteousness and mother-love, racially profiling some Arab businessmen and repeatedly demanding to speak to the captain (Sean Bean), who is otherwise occupied. Meanwhile, a genial U.S. air marshal named Carson (Peter Sarsgaard) alternately calms, humors and tries to restrain her as she tries to break into the brand-new, state-of-the-art aircraft’s attic, holds, nooks and crannies. No need to tell you that her engineering background comes in handy.
Director Robert Schwentke gets a lot of mileage out of insincere flight attendant smiles -- which really can seem sinister in the right context -- and weird, periodic rumbling noises that sound like a cross between turbulence and a dump truck depositing its load. He also sets the record straight on what would happen if oxygen masks were to drop from the ceiling: The passengers freak out with abandon, instead of continuing to chat amiably, as though lunch were being served, like they do on those in-flight safety videos. More amusingly, the director, who is German, seems to having some sly fun at the expense of the archetypal American rogue every-person transformed by adversity into an instant vigilante hero with mad technical skills, physical endurance and mental prowess. Kyle is completely comfortable with the idea of inconveniencing (for starters) then endangering (while she’s at it) the other 500 passengers onboard, purely on the authority vested in her by motherhood; just as a whiskey-swilling bruiser a couple of rows away is waiting for someone to give him a reason to punch the Middle Eastern gentlemen in the bulkhead. (For businessmen, though, they sure are dressed-down and scruffed-up.)
Loud, abrasive, demanding and just blinkered enough not to stop to consider that she may be in danger of throwing out the baby with the bathwater, Kyle is not, to put it mildly, the most likable character ever committed to screen.
There’s something about watching her tear up the place looking for a child only she believes exists that feels awfully familiar. The movie loses some of its initial atmospheric tension as paranoid thrills give way to Rambo high jinks. But I guess there’s nothing like blowing things up to put an end to an argument about who’s right.
MPAA rating: PG-13 for violence and some intense plot material.
Times guidelines: Child in peril, some minor violence.
A Touchstone Pictures and Imagine Entertainment presentation. Director Robert Schentke. Written by Peter A. Dowling, Billy Ray. Producer Brian Grazer. Director of photography Florian Ballhaus. Production designer Alexander Hammond. Editor Thom Noble. Costumes Susan Lyall. Music by James Horner. Running time: 1 hour, 33 minutes.
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Brian Grazer is one of Hollywood’s highest-profile producers through Imagine Films, his partnership with Ron Howard, and today marks the takeoff of “Flightplan,” an airborne thriller starring Jodie Foster. We offer a box office tally for the producer’s top 10 movies.
Film (year) / Domestic gross (in millions)
“How the Grinch Stole Christmas” ('00) / $260.0
“Liar Liar” ('97) / $181.0
“Apollo 13" ('95) / $173.8
“A Beautiful Mind” ('01) / $170.7
“Ransom” ('96) / $136.5
“The Nutty Professor” ('96) / $128.8
“The Nutty Professor II: The Klumps” ('00) / $123.3
“8 Mile” ('02) / $116.7
“The Cat in the Hat” ('03) / $101.1
“Parenthood” ('89) / $100.0