The high-concept enclosed space thriller gets another go around in “Flightplan”, a film which starts off as an enjoyable contemporary remake of Alfred Hitchcock’s “The Lady Vanishes” but eventually falls apart into a dumb action movie which undermines much of the goodwill the rest of the admittedly engaging story has earned.
Indeed, it seems such a shame the last act drops the ball so much as the first half of the movie works fine. After a somewhat strangely dark start in the snowy streets of Berlin, the story quickly progresses onto the airplane where as we’ve seen in the ads and trailers, Foster’s daughter vanishes without a trace. At first the film follows logical and believable patterns of how people would react in that kind of situation – her rising panic and frustration, the stewards attempts to help mixed with their concerns over her state of mind, and the mixture of resent and concern from fellow passengers.
Along the way there’s a couple of red herrings and rather predictable twists thrown in for good measure, one in particular a blackly comic subplot playing off many people’s current prejudices about racial stereotyping. Despite these pedestrian scripting problems (one particular clunker involves questioning Foster’s sanity), there’s a nice sense of slow burn suspense going on. Then Foster gets knocked out, and when she wakes up to a dull lecture from an onboard shrink the film suddenly takes a turn and continues to de-evolve into a bad Wesley Snipes or Steven Seagal movie. The eventual big twist, though refreshingly simple, seems tired.
Foster has carved her own niche in these types of roles and her performance here, essentially reprising the same character she played in the superior “Panic Room”, once again gives it her all. Whilst her background as a propulsion engineer seems a rather blatant conceit, she manages to make some dubious actions her character enacts ring true, and emotionally never missteps. Bean (and Sarsgaard at first) do solid jobs in run of the mill roles, others like the various actresses playing stewardesses are just plain bad.
Robert Schwentke’s direction manages to make good use of the hi-tech planes various environments – it rarely feels like he cut corners for budgetary reasons, and for such a confined environment it all seems quite spacious. Nevertheless he fumbles the ball on various elements, most notably several shots concentrating too long or hard on characters or environments which telegraph way ahead of time what’s going to happen.
The biggest danger with high concept thrillers is that the script will set up a great premise and then fumble the ball with a half-assed resolution. On that charge “Flightplan” is certainly guilty. Despite Foster’s usual stellar work, a moderately decent mystery setup and some impressive production values, it lacks the better sense of tension and fun that similar recent fare such as “Red Eye”, “Phone Booth” and the aforementioned “Panic Room” managed to portray with much more conviction. Funnily enough it makes for a good in-flight movie.