In Flightplan, what starts out as a nifty Hitchcockian bump-in-the-night thriller ends as a Bruckheimeresque things-that-go-boom misfire.
Kyle Pratt’s been working as a propulsion engineer in Berlin and her husband recently died in a mysterious accident.
Paranoia has engulfed Kyle (Jodie Foster, A Very Long Engagement). The neighbors across from her apartment – are they spying on her 6-year-old daughter?
Spooked and grieving, Kyle heads back to Long Island for her husband’s burial, her daughter, Julia (newcomer Marlene Lawston), in tow.
Having grabbed extra space in an empty row at the rear of the plane, Kyle takes an intercontinental nap with Julia. But when Kyle awakes… Julia’s gone.
The Girl Vanishes
Flightplan gets off to a great start. It preys upon the sense of unfamiliarity and uncertainty experienced while living in a foreign country then it deftly moves to the archetypes of air travel.
Those perpetual smiles on the faces of the stewardesses of Aalto Airlines, depending on the circumstances and the airplane’s lighting, can either be welcoming or ominous.
Then there are the rambunctious, unrestrained children. And don’t forget the overly friendly and nosey passengers, those desperately seeking somebody to chat with in order to while away some time.
To Kyle’s dismay, none of the passengers, not even the nosey ones, recall ever seeing a child with Kyle.
Kyle, the calm, logical engineer, turns into Kyle the manic, domineering passenger as she seeks out the truth behind her daughter’s fate. Her fate, that is, if she ever even existed.
The flight manifest has all passengers accounted for, and Julia Pratt is not on the list; even Kyle cannot produce Julia’s boarding pass. Julia’s backpack is also missing. But then there’s the matter of the Teddy bear. It’s right there, in Julia’s seat, hidden under her standard-issue airline blanket.
Nightmare at 40,000 Feet
When Kyle’s behavior gets a little out of hand and she begins disturbing the passengers, even accusing an Arab passenger of kidnapping her daughter (and spying on her back in Berlin), Air Marshal Gene Carson (Peter Sarsgaard, Garden State) steps in to restore order, if not political correctness.
Carson doesn’t have a way with words and early in Kyle’s hysterics he takes her aside and asks her what makes her so special that somebody would want to kidnap her daughter.
An even better question would be: Why would somebody target an engineer who knows the plane inside out? It’s a question that haunts the final act.
Once the plot twist reveals itself, that final act is pretty much a paint-by-numbers exercise that sadly lacks the haunted house atmospherics promised in the film’s trailer. What transpires is a pretty absurd – and explosive – conclusion that can be picked up on before all the passengers have even boarded the plane.
Even worse, with the movie settling in the mind afterward, the more thought given to the circumstances and events that unfold in the third act only leads to a greater sense of dissatisfaction. There’s a considerable amount of cheating going on in Flightplan’s itinerary.
To its credit, the movie is technically proficient, but director Robert Schwentke is working with flawed material. Visually, there’s quite a bit to enjoy, starting with the stylish and clever opening credits and numerous different ways of panning across and around the airplane’s cabin.
Nonetheless, there’s a sense Schwentke’s simply cutting his teeth on Flightplan and, hopefully, he’s en route to bigger, better projects.
Making full use of every frame given her, Foster takes charge of the screen; her performance is the glue that holds the ship together and makes the movie as good as it is. She’s also backed up with a fine supporting cast, including Sean Bean (The Lord of the Rings trilogy) as the plane’s duty-bound captain.
The first two-thirds of Flightplan is a trip well worth taking, but, especially considering the talent involved and the potential for a unique thriller, the final leg hits heavy turbulence that leads to a very bumpy landing.