Much like last year's Cellular, Red Eye (rated PG-13 for some intense sequences of violence and bad language) is a stripped-down thriller that succeeds through economy, pace, and casting.
Rachel McAdams (Mean Girls) plays Lisa Reisert, an overworked luxury hotel manager returning to her home in Miami on an all-night flight. She's seated next to the initially charming Jackson Rippner (Cillian Murphy of Batman Begins). Were not the character's name and the film's trailers so quick to expose his malevolence, one might hesitate in going any further in describing the plot. But, once airborne, it's clear that Lisa isn't going to have a very peaceful flight with new friend Jack.
Director Wes Craven, taking a welcome break from the teen-horror genre he helped create, is nearly flawless in the set-up and execution of the bulk of Red Eye's plot. He competently achieves the film's modest goal-the steady buildup of suspense in the so-familiar claustrophobia of a cramped airliner seat-suggesting that he may have been laboring in the wrong genre for all these years. Certainly Jack's cool, deadly, blue-eyed gaze is far more frightening that any of the gore-fests Mr. Craven has put on screen recently.
Lisa has something that Jack needs. Jack, in turn, has something that Lisa very badly wants. Watching the two of them maneuver around a situation guaranteed to end badly for one of them, in the cramped confines of a passenger plane, we see exactly what a lightweight thriller ought to be. Ms. McAdams effectively blends terror with a subtle strength while Mr. Murphy convincingly makes some jarring transitions from charismatic to cold-blooded.
The problem with Red Eye, like most thrillers, is that it builds to a foregone conclusion that is both improbable and distasteful. Rarely does a thriller whet an audience's appetite for justice-instead, we're conditioned to expect a payoff in the form of brutal vengeance. Once Lisa and Jack hit the ground, the film descends right along with them. Thankfully, Mr. Craven keeps the running time short (85 minutes) and dispenses with the last act in a tidy, but not quite as streamlined, manner.