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Movies | Jodie Foster stars in a thriller that begins with promise, but ends in silliness

Issue: "Rita: After the storms," Oct. 8, 2005

Many thrillers begin with an engaging premise and quickly fall apart once the setup gives way to predictable plot climaxes and chase scenes. Flightplan, Jodie Foster's new terror-in-the-skies thriller, follows this pattern and is notable only for a stronger than average start and a particularly absurd conclusion.

Ms. Foster plays Kyle, a newly single mother traveling from Germany back to the United States with her 6-year-old daughter, Julia (Marlene Lawston). In the hold of their massive, brand-new Aalto Air 474 is a casket carrying Kyle's deceased husband. Their jumbo jet isn't full, so Kyle and Julia settle into separate rows to sleep. When Kyle wakes up, Julia's nowhere to be found. Confusion quickly turns to panic when Julia doesn't immediately reappear.

Up to this point, Flightplan (rated PG-13 for violence and some intense plot material) could be reasonably referred to as Hitchcockian, which is clearly the film's aim. Director Robert Schwentke allows for enough ambiguity early on (the crew begins to question Julia's very existence) to keep the audience guessing. Then convention and lazy scriptwriting kick in, and the film makes an all too rapid descent.

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Ms. Foster competently portrays a mother stricken with grief, self-doubt, and fear. But the promise of her easily understandable terror in the context of a massive, multistory airplane (which is both cavernous and confining) is lost in near complete silliness. (Flightplan is the type of thriller that parades every character involved in the plot by the protagonist in the film's final moments just so that every possible loose thread is tied in a neat little bow.)

Flightplan does identify itself as a post-9/11 film in interesting ways beyond the added tension involved in airline travel. A relatively new character to this type of thriller-an air marshal (Peter Sarsgaard)-figures prominently in the plot. Also playing a role: a group of Arab passengers, whom Kyle immediately suspects to be involved in her daughter's disappearance, linking her knowledge of the plane (she's an aeronautical engineer) to a highjacking plot.

But-Flightplan being a mainstream Hollywood production-don't expect the role of the Arabs to serve anything other than a saccharine, politically correct purpose.


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