Murphy, Craven make 'Red Eye' a creepy flight

Published: Thursday, January 19, 2006 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 18, 2006 at 10:33 p.m.
'Red Eye" is the latest on the very long list of Movies that Will Never Be Shown on Airplanes. On DVD, it is soon to be joined by the new Jodie Foster flick "Flightplan," which was picketed by the stewardess' union. Now, I doubt "Red Eye" warrants being picketed by anyone, but it does do a superb job of pointing out how confined and trapped you are inside a commercial flight.
Instead of using the airplane as a set for action sequences, director Wes Craven uses his horror skills to make the plane seem like a deathtrap. Our heroine is being extorted by the man in the seat next to her; she can't escape, she's 40,000 feet in the air, her cell phone won't work. She is a hostage, and no one else on the plan knows it.
"Red Eye" is a short and sweet suspense movie, sort of a blend of Alfred Hitchcock and Roger Corman. It is corny in places, but the corniness is acceptable because this is an ambitious B-movie.
There are only three characters who matter in the movie; plucky heroine Rachel McAdams (who you'll remember from "Wedding Crashers"), menacing villain Cillian Murphy (who you'll remember from "Batman Begins") and the metaphorical damsel-in-distress Bryan Cox (who you'll remember from one of his 80 previous films).
Murphy is an assassin who corners McAdams and tells her to help him kill a Homeland Security bigwig or he will have her father killed. Her options are limited, and she tries to figure out a way to keep everyone alive.
There is a lot more conversation than action in this movie, and so the casting is especially important. McAdams is very sympathetic, and Murphy continues to prove himself as one of the best actors working today. He is by turns charming, funny and wicked. I've been a fan of his work since "28 Days Later," and he hasn't made a wrong move yet.
One thing that "Red Eye" does well is to delicately navigate the minefield of airline terrorism in post-9/11 America. I don't think there is anyone particularly interested in seeing another movie about foreign terrorists seizing a passenger plane for their own nefarious purposes. Once upon a time, it was pure escapism, but now that story hits a little too close to home.
But this villain doesn't want to hijack the plane. "I'm not suicidal," he explains. He just uses the plane as a cage for his prey, making it a part of his sinister scheme. It's an affective setting, generating suspense without preying on the very real fear of terrorism.
In the late '90s, capitalizing on the "Die Hard" movie craze, there were several action/suspense movies set on airplanes. You remember those crazy days, when half of the action movies were described as "It's like 'Die Hard' on a ..."
There was "Die Hard" on a bus, "Die Hard" on a boat, "Die Hard" on a mountain and several instances of "Die Hard" on a plane. There was "Passenger 57," which was pretty dull, "Turbulence," which was flat-out awful, and both "Air Force One" and "Executive Decision."
"Executive Decision" is probably the hardest to watch. Not because it's a bad film; it has a good cast and a few thrilling scenes. But consider the plot: Middle Eastern extremists hijack a commercial airline flight. They have a deadly explosive on board and plan on using the plane to blow up all of Washington, D.C.
Kurt Russell and John Leguizamo are part of the high-tech military strike team. Using a stealth fighter and a ladder, they sneak on board the hijacked plane and try to save the passengers, disarm the bomb and do it before the Air Force blows them out of the sky.
The movie was made before 9/11, so they couldn't have known. But still, after those tragic events it is hard to relax and have fun with a movie like this.
"Air Force One" is better because it's worse. It is a by-the-book "Die Hard" knock-off, with an extra wrinkle. It's "Die Hard" on a plane. But instead of a cop fighting the terrorists, it's the president.
Honestly, the concept makes me laugh out loud. A president of the United States as a battle-hardened tough guy? Of OUR United States? It's tough to imagine the W, or Clinton, or Reagan using a machine gun to kill Russkies (although the senior Bush was a vetted CIA man, so I bet he had some moves).
But this is a movie, and the Prez is played by Harrison Ford, so it plays out a little better than it reads. Air Force One is seized by Gary Oldman and a crew of hardline Russian terrorists. They demand the release of a genocidal Russian general and threaten the lives of the First Family and 40 or 50 other people.
Just like "Die Hard," the Prez sneaks around picking off bad guys one by one. He even snags a communicator so he can bypass the terrorists and talk to the Vice Prez and the Joint Chiefs, just like John Maclaine chatted with the cops outside the Nakatomi building.
"Air Force One" should have been a big stinker, but the special effects are pretty spectacular, and the cast is much, much better than the material deserves. Besides Ford as the hero and Oldman as the deliciously evil villain, there are Glenn Close, Paul Guilfoyle and the great character actor William H. Macy playing secondary roles.
A cast this good more than makes up for the ridiculously overused plot. And since there is no part of the film that seems even remotely plausible, the reality of world events never interferes with the silliness of the movie.
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