Taking a break from the horror movies that have buttered his bread for three decades now, Wes Craven's second attempt to escape the genre he's so synonymous with proves to be a smart and efficient little thriller that knows its job is merely to entertain and does so with rapture. Much like the recent 'phone' films "Phone Booth" and "Cellular", this is a short high-concept piece revolving around less than half a dozen key players in a confined space for much of its length. While it may lack the claustrophobic atmosphere and smart dialogue of Schumacher's 'Booth', it boasts a tighter story and better performances than 'Cellular' and is ultimately a lot more satisfying.
Still, much like those aforementioned two films or shows like TV's "24", the continuous emphasis on pacing and suspense requires some serious credibility jumps that audiences will either ignore or take it to task on. Character development is purely at the perfunctory level, actions that the characters play out are logical for the most part but border on the stupid or simply ridiculous at times. There's some light fun banter throughout but in the end its all pure surface thrills - never once demanding anything more from its audience than to sit back and enjoy.
"Red Eye" also boasts a clearly definable three act structure centered around a flight - an almost light romantic comedy setting up character and situation in the first 20 minutes, the tense in-flight suspense thriller middle 40 minutes, and a action chase through Miami suburbia in the last 25 minutes. The film starts off quite well in its minor diversion - workaholic single girl McAdams's life is all about her job as a hotel manager, or her dad (a house-bound Brian Cox literally phoning in his performance).
The opening is obviously just necessary exposition to get out of the way and yet Craven and the actors seemed relaxed, allowing the scenes to fold out at a believable pace. McAdams and Murphy throughout deliver solid performances - despite being confined to chairs most of the film. McAdams is gorgeous, yet has a very easy going and genuine charm about her which makes her an easy heroinne to root for. The unconventionally handsome Murphy uses his crystal blue eyes and pouty lips to effectively display both a warm charm at one second and chilling menace the next.
As the action moves to the inside of the plane, the real meat of the movie begins. Although it does drag on too long at times, much of this 'middle half' of the film is simply riveting conversation. He with his cold but mannered delivery, her with her naturally shaken and then assertive attempts to tell someone about things plays out well. Despite one or two physical assaults to McAdams character that obviously would be noticed by people around them straining the believability factor, much of her actions are what anyone would do in her place. Indeed, Craven and writer Carl Ellsworth know all about this sort of thing and seem to expect that the audience will be thinking ahead of the game on more than one occasion here. There's also some nice light attempts at comedy, mostly from the great Suzie Plakson's air hostess character or McAdams bubbly blond hotel assistant.
The last segment will easily be the most debated as the plane lands and the action moves to the Miami streets and a suburban home. The in-flight environment is restricted in terms of what can be done which is both a good and bad thing in this case. Once the story moves to the outside environment it certainly turns up the tension and delivers one hell of an ass-kicking finale, but it obviously becomes a dumber and yet paradoxically more complicated film for it. Nevertheless that doesn't take away from what remains one of the slicker major movies of the year so far. Its a pure B-movie but even with its obvious script and budget limitations, rises above most of the type of that genre. Quick but satisfying.