THE 2005 FILM BY CRAVEN WORTH EYEING
Here we have a lovely summer gem by Wes Craven, whose earlier film this year Cursed was exactly what the title spelled out: a curse on anyone who goes to the movies and likes movies.
The original teaser for "Red Eye" is one of the most brilliant trailers I have seen in years. It originally gives off the impression of being a sweet romantic comedy to the order of Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan. Here a cute girl catches the eye of a complete stranger, becomes distracted and gets doused with coffee after bumping into another Starbucks customer. They flirt, share a couple of laughs and in a bold move he invites her to a snack before their plane takes off.
But immediately after we're introduced to a cheery premise the teaser descends into urgent terror, making way for the "a film by Wes Craven" placard, in bold red letters catching everyone off guard. It gives away nothing, unlike its most recent trailer, which -- like nearly every advertisement this year -- gives away almost everything.
So going into the main feature we know what to anticipate, but we're still caught off guard by the virtue of our hero. Lisa (Rachel McAdams), a guest relations manager at a luxurious Miami hotel is trying to get back to Florida and her father (Brian Cox) after attending a grandmother's funeral. We don't know much about Lisa other than she's pretty, sweet, and ran into trouble in her past no girl of her stature ever deserves.
While stranded at the airport in the middle of the night due to bad weather, Lisa meets Jackson (Cillian Murphy), a seemingly normal fellow who coaxes her into a bar for a quick drink and charms her with his sly wit before their red eye flight departs for Miami.
Running at a cool 85 minutes, we soon see our couple sitting next to each other on the plane waiting for takeoff. Once in the air Jackson dauntingly informs her that unless a task is completed that only she can do within a matter of hours, her father will be assassinated by a gunman hanging outside his upscale home.
Lisa's task isn't an easy one. Her actions will determine who will die: her father or a high profile hotel client with whom she has family-like relations. Jackson doesn't give her much time to think about it and is smarter than the average movie kidnapper. He's experienced and knows all the tricks.
The majority of the film takes place on the claustrophobic airplane and is constructed to look extremely real, with all of the elements we recognize from actual flying experiences: rude passengers, cheerful flight attendants and a boisterous captain who knows "you have a choice when it comes to picking airlines and we thank you for choosing Fresh Air."
I didn't expect much this time around from Craven, whose countless other horror films for the most part depend on routine formula where the evil is embodied by a supernatural force and its characters are mostly fodder for the villain to eviscerate in whatever creative fashion that particular film's rating allows.
But "Red Eye" is different. It's unnerving and taut thanks to the effective performances by McAdams, who had a backseat role in this year's runaway hit "Wedding Crashers," and Murphy who was delightful in this year's "Batman Begins." She is sweet and sincere, therefore we like her and squirm when she's in peril. He's creepy, conniving and manipulating. Considering events in her past, interacting with men in the future will require a long road to recovery for Lisa...that is, if she survives this harrowing ordeal.
But Lisa is no weak character. While she does experience the usual pratfalls that heroines in distress can't seem to avoid, she never loses her cool short of a small breakdown she goes through when given her only minutes of privacy in the airplane lavatory.
There are many mental fights between Lisa and Jackson, but he is usually one step ahead, such as when he predicts she will covertly try to cry for help and attempt to stall what she is being asked to do.
The climax doesn't quite hold up to its potential, but despite a few shortcomings and rushed conveniences it ultimately works as an engaging thriller from start to finish, and redeems Craven who still has what it takes to keep audiences glued to the screen when given the right opportunity.
First time screenwriters Carl Ellsworth & Dan Foos deserve a lot of credit for what they've written and should have plenty of opportunities in the future. "Red Eye" is a great way to round off the summer season that stalled earlier this month, and will surely please the thrill-seeking enthusiast.