They also take a common interest in Richard's newest harebrained scheme: From scraps of junk and old canvases he's now building a primitive biplane. Call out the symbol police if you must, but this lovely contraption will later provide the movie's loveliest moment.

What's liberating about The Theory of Flight is not so much its brashness or even its reckless disregard for totem and taboo. What really lifts it high is its delicate balance of outlandish charm and outright gravity. I couldn't help recalling a great maxim of George Bernard Shaw: "Life does not cease to be funny when people die any more than it ceases to be serious when people laugh."

Words to live by, especially if you're making a movie in which the heroine has to die in the last reel. Bring a couple of hankies, to be sure, but don't forget your funny bone.

Opens Jan. 22.
-- Bill Gallo

Co-written and directed by Neil Jordan

Claire Cooper (Annette Bening), an editor and illustrator of a collection of Grimms' fairytales, finds herself trapped in a horrific fairytale of her own. Long plagued by psychic dreams of past events, she is slow to realize that her current dreams, of children being kidnapped and murdered, are in fact premonitions. Her husband (Aidan Quinn) barely believes her, and her psychiatrist (Stephen Rea) is even more skeptical. It quickly becomes clear that the change in her psychic abilities is the result of her dreams having been invaded by another psychic, a deranged killer (Robert Downey Jr.) who doesn't actually show up until more than two-thirds of the way through the film.

This is essentially an art-house Freddy Krueger movie, and not as good as several of the entries in the Nightmare on Elm Street series. For years director Neil Jordan has slipped back and forth between his projects (The Crying Game, The Butcher Boy) and Hollywood work-for-hire (Interview with the Vampire, We're No Angels and now In Dreams). He should stick to the smaller, more personal films. Although the subject matter here echoes Jordan's second film, The Company of Wolves (1984), the style is far less interesting, despite the work of the always great cinematographer Darius Khondji (Delicatessen, Seven) and a fine score by Elliott Goldenthal that seems to be deliberately patterned on Angelo Badalamenti's music for David Lynch. (The use of certain sound effects and of Roy Orbison's title song only points up the association.) An effective sense of creepiness runs throughout this picture -- and there's one moment of jump-out-of-your-seat violence -- but taken as a whole it seems a bit silly. The plot is neither wild enough to come close to Lynch's unreality nor logical enough to pass muster as a standard thriller.

Now playing.
-- Andy Klein

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