Red Eye, Wes Craven's suspense thriller at 30,000 feet, has a compelling terror to it, even if the horror master stabs himself a bit in the last act.
Craven works pretty coherently from the script by Carl Ellsworth which sets up a scenario not so unlike Collateral, but in a manner that on the surface has much relevance to how life has changed after 9/11.
His main character is Lisa Reisert, played by the much-in-demand Rachel McAdams (Wedding Crashers). Lisa has a fear of flying and is on the red-eye flight from Dallas to Miami for her grandmother's funeral. The film's rather short running time chronicles Lisa before, during and after being on a jet with some 150 people and the part on board has an intriguing quality to it similar to Phone Booth.
The story outlines the troubles of a businesswoman like Lisa who has a knack for finding the right hotel room for her patrons and encounters problems at airline terminals that are par for the course.
Her seatmate aboard the plane is Jackson (Cillian Murphy), the same helpful man who got her through earlier problems while in line at the terminal and flirted with her. The movie's trailer indicates the real reason he's on board and it's not giving away much that the life of the Deputy Secretary of Homeland Security is on the line and Lisa is vital to making it happen. Oh, that means cooperating so her recently retired father (Brian Cox of The Bourne Supremacy) won't be killed by a hitman waiting outside his house in a BMW.
The film develops in unhurried fashion building the relationship between Lisa and Jackson, whose last name happens to be Rippner. McAdams and Murphy make the complexities between their unlike characters bond in a way that takes the audience on an interesting ride even through the latter cinematic and storytelling turbulence. It's how they see each other during their claustrophobic interplay that offers some psychological tension as we learn that Lisa is not as resourceful currently in her personal life as she is handling hotel affairs.
In this character-driven tale that emerges as female empowerment, the emotions of young people going through extreme situations registers with the Irish actor in Murphy able to handle a flawless American accent and display cut and dry professionalism. And, McAdams can be vulnerable and sharp as she presents a viable character arc.
Craven, who stumbled earlier this year with the delayed Cursed, gets much mileage while downplaying the subtext of terrorism. RED EYE, even to the casual viewer, starts to fly off the rails upon landing in Miami, where the action and mayhem intensifies in a beat-the-clock scenario. The pace quickens as finally Craven tries to make the pulse shiver like the outcome of Panic Room.
Yet, the anxieties felt upon takeoff makes this seemingly small-screen confection a welcome boarding pass for the plane facts of a compressed pressure-cooker that doesn't always view the fliers as friendly or right.