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Plotting makes ‘Fllightplan’ a bumpy trip

Pat Moore | Wednesday, October 26, 2005

“Flightplan” is a thriller in the skies that delivers – for about an hour, anyway. With an intriguing story concept, an engrossingly suspenseful mood (thanks to director Robert Schwentke), and a talented lead actress in Jodie Foster, the film has the potential for greatness. But it falls short – and falls hard – with a late plot-destroying twist and a less than stellar ending.

Jodie Foster stars as Kyle, an engineer for a German airplane manufacturer who has suffered the tragic loss of her husband in an act of suicide. With her young daughter Julia, Kyle leaves home in Berlin to bury her husband in America. As their flight takes off, an emotionally worn Kyle and Julia cling to each other in the passenger cabin and fall asleep.

When Kyle awakens, her mind is not on her late husband, but on her daughter, mysteriously absent from her seat. Kyle’s mild alarm turns to worry, and ultimately to panic as she cannot locate Julia. Much of the rest of the film depicts Kyle’s struggle to find Julia and identify the person who has taken her.

“Flightplan” is entertaining in the way it generates a thick aura of tension, confusion and suspense. The commercial aircraft in which the plot unfolds is enormous, making six-year-old Julia difficult to find.

Yet the confined setting of the airplane dictates that if Julia boarded the plane, she still must be on the plane, even if she is missing. Anxiety builds for both Kyle and the audience at the thought of Julia being so near, yet so elusive.

The flight’s passengers are culturally diverse, eccentric, impersonal and unfriendly. Such casting of the passengers subtly contributes to the building suspense, as everyone becomes a suspect for abducting Julia, for both Kyle and the audience.

Jodie Foster’s acting talent shines as the distraught mother, whose panic takes her to the brink of sanity. Hysterical, but not helpless, Kyle climbs, crawls and breaks into other compartments of the aircraft to search for Julia.

Perhaps the movie’s greatest strength is the potent emotional connection Foster’s character establishes with the audience. Like the character Lisa in the Wes Craven movie “Red Eye,” Kyle is both the victim and the hero.

“Flightplan” is filled with twists and turns to keep the audience on its toes, the biggest of which takes place about an hour into the movie. Audiences won’t see this one coming, because it is so far-fetched and ridiculous that it suspends belief.

The twist complicates the circumstances of Kyle’s problem to the point that they become unbelievable and absurd, even for a Hollywood movie. And since the plot twist is so central to the script, it brings down the entire story.

What it does not bring down, however, is the movie’s entertainment value. The movie builds suspense upon suspense, and, regardless of plot integrity, keeps the audience engrossed until the end. The ending, while satisfying, is anticlimactic in that the conflict is resolved far too quickly.

The film’s closing scene is not nearly as lengthy or dramatic as those of its peers, “Red Eye” and “Air Force One.” Yet, as much as comparisons can be drawn with those movies, Schwentke’s film is worth seeing on its own, regardless of the shortcomings. If you can forgive the screenwriters, “Flightplan” is solid, Friday night thriller fun.