At first glance, the plot of Red Eye sounds like yet another cutesy romantic comedy: Spunky young career girl Lisa (Rachel McAdams) meets a smooth-as-butter charmer (Cillian Murphy) at the check-in for an overnight flight to Miami. But theres just the mildest hint of anxiety as they flirt over tacky airport lounge cocktails, and if the sharklike stare of his icy blue eyes werent enough, when he offers the preposterous name of Jackson Rippner, you can just go ahead and fill in the rest.
Our faux lovebirds are all-too-conveniently seated together on the plane, and as soon they leave the ground, the threat is revealed; Lisa is the manager of a swanky South Beach hotel, and Jackson needs her for his plot to kill one the hotel guests, who just so happens to be the deputy secretary of homeland security. If she refuses to comply, theres a hit man waiting outside her daddys house. The simple premise is kept aloft for quite some time by the slickness of the script, and the surprisingly deft work by the leads. With her doe-like eyes and soft features, McAdams makes both the perfect victim and heroine, while Murphy (28 Days Later, Batman Begins) is thoroughly enjoyable as a menacing cad.
Director Wes Craven deftly handles the tricky tennis match of captive vs. tormentor, which works beautifully in the claustrophobic confines of the coach section, but fizzles once the plane lands. The ensuing predictable chase scenes and peek-a-boo terror climax are fun, but theyre just not half as interesting as what went on at 30,000 feet. Red Eye also wobbles when bogged down with too much pop psychology, crassly playing up our countrys current state of terrorism paranoia. Fortunately the pace is so relentless theres scarcely time to mull over the inherent absurdities.
Craven, having spent the bulk of the last decade cranking out the Scream series, seems to relish the opportunity to do what Brian De Palma always strove for: to make a pitch-perfect Hitchcockian thrill ride without having to actually remake Hitchcock, and he makes the most of it. Red Eye is a model of efficiency, clocking in at barely 80 minutes, but milks every second for optimum thrills.
Corey Hall writes about film for Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected].