After the mysterious death of her husband, Kyle Pratt (Jodie Foster) and her daughter Julia (Marlene Lawston) are looking forward to relocating from Germany to New York City. After boarding an airplane she helped design, Kyle settles down for a nap, only to awaken and find that Julia is missing. Frenzied, Kyle demands the plane be searched, which irritates the flight attendants, and raises the suspicions of one of the passengers (Peter Sarsgaard). When each search comes up empty, fellow passengers start becoming agitated, and the captain of the plane (Sean Bean) wary of her motives, Kyle is forced to confront her own sanity and accept that Julia might not have existed at all.
It's not any fault of "Flightplan" (IMDb listing) that it has to come out a month after Wes Craven's rollicking "Red Eye." After gorging on Craven's outrageous airplane thriller like it was a Halloween-night candy bonanza, "Flightplan" dares to mount a similar nightmare-in-the-sky experience, this time crusted with a little more refinement and an A-list acting pedigree.
Jodie Foster returns to a big screen starring role after her 2002 hit, "Panic Room." At first glance, the two films are quite similar, requiring the veteran actress to play an extremely physical part, maintaining intensity like a pro while crawling around tight spaces and confronting everyone in sight. "Flightplan" is a good example of Foster's uncanny ability to make almost any material work, and her performance here is a major reason why "Flightplan" has credible moments of both nail-biting suspense and terrifically goofy fun. She commits entirely to the premise and the wonderful airplane set design, elevating the film slightly above the B-list level it has its sights set on.
Directed by German-born Robert Schwentke, "Flightplan" is a picture that is entirely about the art of persuasion. To delve into the plot too far would give away the surprises that Schwentke and his screenwriters have in store for the audience, much like "Red Eye." However, Schwentke takes the opposite route of Craven, and begins to fancy himself a Hitchcockian type of director, taking the film very seriously, even when the screenplay begins to veer off into la-la land. Schwentke knows how to assemble a good suspense sequence, and "Flightplan" sets itself apart by freely exploring the post 9/11 airline world with its collection of undercover air marshals and suspicious Arab passengers. As Kyle searches for her daughter, Schwentke has the advantage on the audience, tossing up multiple theories on what is going on. Is Kyle nuts? Is she a threat? Is Julia really dead? For a good solid hour (minus a faulty opening 10 minutes), the audience has no idea, and "Flightplan" exploits the terror and mystery of the situation exceedingly well.
When truths are finally revealed in the second half, "Flightplan" slips into action mode, and things become increasingly hard to swallow. Schwentke doesn't seem prepared to handle the more outlandish moments of the extended climax, but the scenes work regardless since the film is so blessed with acting talent. By this time in the film, the audience is ready for a little brutality, and Schwentke is willing to give it to them, just not with the same quality of execution found in the first half. The finale doesn't come across as a disappointment, but it doesn't match the sleek and efficient craftsmanship of the set-up, leaving "Flightplan" hanging when it needs the strongest punch.
Filmfodder Grade: B