THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


If you knew nothing about it beforehand, it would be easy to think that Red Eye was a romantic comedy. Rachel McAdams (Wedding Crashers) plays Lisa Reisert, a harried young business woman who works at a luxury Miami hotel. After attending her grandmother’s funeral in Texas, Lisa heads to the airport, only to find that her flight has been delayed. While waiting, she meets a charming stranger named Jackson (Cillian Murphy). They have one of those movie “meet cutes” and begin flirting with one another. When the flight is finally cleared, Lisa discovers that she’s coincidentally seated next to Jackson.

But here’s where the tone changes dramatically. Jackson claims his last name is Rippner (thus making him “Jack Rippner”) and as soon as the plane takes off, he announces that his people are holding Lisa’s father hostage. If she does not follow his orders, her father will be killed. Without giving too much away, Jackson needs Lisa to do something at her job that will facilitate an assassination attempt against the Deputy Secretary of Homeland Security. With no means of escape, Lisa must find a way to stall. She tries to signal for help, but there’s really none to be had. All she can do is wait for the plane to land, then try to escape Jackson’s clutches, warn the Deputy Secretary, and rescue her father. The wait proves excruciating.

Red Eye captures two rising stars at the exact moment when their careers are poised to blow up. After garnering good notices for her work in Mean Girls and The Notebook, Rachel McAdams has become a hot property in Hollywood. She does solid work here as well. Just look at how the actress makes a subtle change in Lisa’s demeanor as soon as Jackson starts getting creepy. You can see her enthusiasm melt as she goes from being attracted to him, to being weirded out by him, to fearing him. Cillian Murphy is also making a name for himself after playing the Scarecrow in Batman Begins. Some actors (Christopher Walken, for example) make good villains because they physically look odd or menacing. Murphy is the opposite. He possesses soft, almost feminine features that are disconcerting when he’s playing a baddie. That’s why he’s so well-cast in this film. He seems like he could easily be the man of Lisa’s dreams or the man of her worst nightmares.

Red Eye is a lean, efficient thriller that runs for just 85 minutes (including end credits). Overall, it was smart for director Wes Craven to keep the movie shorter; its compactness means that things happen rapidly from the very beginning and never stop. I enjoyed the snappy pace, as well as the taut suspense scenes. Lisa, we learn, doesn’t want to be a victim. She continually tries to outthink Jackson or to fight back. The last third of the film, during which the characters get off the plane and chase each other around, aren’t quite as creative as the in-flight scenes, but McAdams is so winning – and Murphy is so menacing – that it barely matters. By that point, I had become invested in the action and wanted to see where it would go. Like Phone Booth or Cellular before it, Red Eye has an ingenious premise that makes you put yourself in the lead character’s shoes and ask what you would do in this situation.

What the movie could have used was a little more information about Jackson’s plot. At the end, it’s not clear who exactly he works for or why they’re so intent on killing the Deputy Secretary. Then again, this is an example of what Hitchcock called “the McGuffin” – the thing that puts the plot in motion. In other words, the specifics aren’t as important as the characters’ reactions to the situation. I just felt that, since it addresses Homeland Security, Red Eye might have had something compelling to say about our modern-day nervousness regarding terrorism. It doesn’t, but the movie still works as a claustrophobic little thriller with two effective central performances.

( out of four)

Red Eye is rated PG-13 for some intense sequences of violence, and language. The running time is 1 hour and 25 minutes.

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