Flight Risk

Wes Craven takes a cue from Hitchcock aboard the Red Eye

Aug 17, 2005 at 4:00 am
Red Eye may not seem to be your typical Wes Craven movie. It's not really horror, there are no marketable monsters, and unlike Cursed, Scream 3 and other recent Craven offerings, it's actually an enjoyable time at the movies.

But heroine Lisa Reisert (Rachel McAdams) is very much in the mold of the traditional "Craven girl." Like Sidney (Neve Campbell) in the Scream saga and Nancy (Heather Langenkamp) in the Elm Street movies, Lisa has dark hair, big teeth, no time for a boyfriend, the heretofore unknown ability to kick ass when the situation calls for it and a dangerously intelligent adversary who nonetheless manages to be arrogant enough to underestimate his prey. It doesn't hurt that the script comes from Carl Ellsworth, a former writer for Buffy, Xena and Cleopatra 2525.

Like so many Craven girls, Lisa apparently has no time for a boyfriend; she's a workaholic, constantly making arrangements via cell phone for the hotel she manages. When she gets in an argument with a rude fellow traveler at the airport, another passenger by the name of Jackson (Cillian Murphy) comes in on her side. Later, she joins him for a drink at the bar.

Jackson's full name is "Jackson Rippner" -- a joke so obvious, it's deliberately mentioned, as well as a piece of foreshadowing for those who didn't see Murphy play the Scarecrow in Batman Begins. Soon enough, Jackson and Lisa are sitting side by side on the plane, when that coolness and those icy good looks of his turn from charming to menacing. He reveals that their meeting was no coincidence; that her father (Brian Cox) is under surveillance by an associate ready to shoot him at a moment's notice, and that in order to prevent this, she must call her hotel and change the reservation for the Deputy Secretary of Homeland Security (Jack Scalia) and his family from his usual suite to another room, where, presumably, an assassination will be arranged.

Craven looks to have been studying his Alfred Hitchcock movies. It is much to the credit of all involved with Red Eye that the bulk of the movie is taut, compelling and consists simply of two people talking to each other. None of Lisa's stalling tactics seem excessively unbelievable, and in fact, most of them don't work. Thankfully, this is not one of those movies where the characters go into the luggage hold and the cockpit and all those other nooks and crannies of the plane; these passengers are as confined as you or I would be in similar circumstances.

Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for what happens when the plane lands. Don't worry, no spoiling details here -- the trailer seems to have taken care of that -- but the movie becomes more of a traditional actioner at that point, with Lisa and Jackson eventually doing things that regular humans cannot do. The movie's still fun, but a different kind of fun. At 85 minutes, it's also too short to really give you time to worry about nitpicks until several hours afterward.

Newcomer Jayma Mays makes an auspicious debut in the role of Cynthia, the assistant hotel manager on the other end of Lisa's many phone calls. Essentially the comic relief in the movie, she must balance life-or-death situations with more mundane but equally intimidating run-ins with rude patrons capable of getting her fired. It's a role that could easily turn into a caricature, but Mays keeps it human and funny.

It's interesting that the Irishman Murphy came to fame as a horror movie hero (28 Days Later) yet seems to be falling into creepy villainy in his American roles. Maybe it's because his looks aren't conventional enough, or that his way of speaking -- which comes about as a result of trying to conceal his natural accent -- is too mannered. McAdams, on the other hand, has shown she can do pretty much anything, having excelled at comedy (Mean Girls), romance (The Notebook) and now suspense. If she wants a challenge from here on out, she might need to portray an ugly person.