cast: Jodie Foster, Peter Sarsgaard, Kate Beahan, Sean Bean, and Greta Scacchi

director: Robert Schwentke

94 minutes (12) 2005
widescreen ratio 2.35:1
Touchstone DVD Region 2 retail

RATING: 6/10
reviewed by Christopher Geary

Panic plane? Sky room? Here’s unlikely heroine and Hollywood favourite Jodie Foster in yet another super-mum role for a suspense-drama that’s unashamedly reminiscent of David Fincher’s glossy thriller, Panic Room. As you might guess from its no-nonsense title, Flightplan is centred on a jetliner. German director Robert Schwentke (maker of the grimly compelling serial killer shocker, Tattoo) gets his mainstream Hollywood debut with the sort of high-concept movie that requires the bankable presence of above-the-title stardom, just to get the serious attention of cynical studio executives. In a year that gave us Wes Craven’s nifty low-budget hostage thriller Red Eye, this lavishly designed production looks and certainly feels more like a wannabe blockbuster.

Following the apparent suicide of her husband in Berlin, aircraft engineer Kyle Pratt (Jodie Foster) is returning home to the USA on a routine commercial flight, but the extraordinary intrudes upon the everyday, when Kyle’s morose six-year-old daughter Julia (Marlene Lawston) vanishes, without a trace, scant hours into their journey. Increasingly concerned for her missing little girl’s safety, Kyle soon turns frantic when nobody on the plane remembers seeing Julia, and the official record suggests that poor Mrs Pratt was travelling alone, except for her hubby’s coffin in the cargo hold. Sympathy for the grieving widow quickly evaporates after her interfering actions inconvenience and then endanger all the other passengers. Captain Rich (Sean Bean, stuck in a robotic mode, throughout) gives air marshal Gene Carson (Peter Sarsgaard, unfortunately prone to dark sneers of pantomime villainy) the daunting task of keeping troublesome Kyle quiet. However, following brunette Greta Scacchi’s dryly-humorous cameo spot as the calming psychotherapist, Kyle promptly becomes a woman totally obsessed with finding her missing child, and she has enough cunning and technical expertise to disable the plane in midair…

Protecting innocents from harm, whether physical, mental or emotional, has long since become a staple of Hollywood movies. The rules of this overly familiar game of – ultimately parental duty, but also a widespread social responsibility – are that everything humanly possible must be done, immediately, and then if none of that works and solves the typically familial crisis, greater superhuman measures must come into play, instantly. Flightplan sticks rigidly to this high-minded procedure, and so the maternal instincts of Foster’s reluctant super-heroine take precedence over all else. Common sense, mundane goodwill or civility, international law and rationality are summarily rejected when determined mother Kyle single-handedly solves the baffling mystery of her kidnapped daughter, thwarts a hijacker’s clever extortion plot, tricks the bad guy into revealing his secrets, rescues sleeping Julia from the jaws of death, and then almost effortlessly destroys part of the aircraft’s fuselage after the plane makes its emergency landing.

As a premier airborne thriller, Flightplan is blatantly and fatally ludicrous, and yet its obviously stylish execution, palpable anxieties and escalating dramatic tensions, ensure this is a movie that entertains from start to finish. Never mind that Foster fails to convince us that she’s a professional engineer. Be prepared to overlook the implausible manner in which explosive devices are smuggled aboard a civilian aircraft during our war-in-terror era. Ignore all the inconsistencies of characterisation, and improbable dynamics of how pursuing unknown suspects in a kidnapping uncovers a terrorist action. Just wallow in the patent absurdities of arbitrary motivations and unexpected storyline twists. Admire the proficiency of both camera work and sound design. Watch for the mind-bogglingly devised stalking scenes in various cabins and decks of this fictional airbus, and eagerly anticipate the wholly crowd-pleasing, happy ending of this allegedly feminist Die Hard variation.

Without a doubt, Flightplan is cringe-worthy, at times, and its makers frequently opt for dramatic licence over realism, but its numerous faults are forgivable and, viewed as agreeably sensationalist, if no-brainer, antidote to the current wave of grisly teenagers-in-jeopardy flicks, this is a visually polished, fast-moving thriller with definite family-audience appeal.

The DVD extras include two interesting techno featurettes, In-Flight Movie: The Making Of Flightplan, and Cabin Pressure: Designing The Aalto E-474. There’s also a map of the plane’s sets. All of which more than adequately displays the painstaking attention to detail that went into constructing the film’s hugely impressive sets.