Poor Planning

Jodie Foster's return to the big screen doesn't get off the ground

Jodie Foster went away for a little while, and that's a sad thing. Even sadder is that her first American movie in three years, Flightplan, is a dud, a silly airplane thriller that asks its audience to swallow way too many outrageous circumstances on the way to its letdown finale.

A combination of good writing and directing can result in outlandish stuff being acceptable in a decent Hollywood thriller. Director Robert Schwentke and his writing staff simply fail on both fronts. One too many twists, and some bad-taste moments, kill the film's potential after the midway point as it becomes standard, routine stuff. In the post-Sept. 11 world, if you're going to make a film about terror on an airplane, you better be on your game. Schwentke's effort is bush league.

Foster plays Kyle, a recently widowed aircraft engineer (the first of many ridiculous plot conveniences) who is taking her daughter on a trans-Atlantic flight to New York with her husband's body in the cargo hold. Three hours into the flight, she awakens from a nap to discover that her daughter has gone missing. Anybody who has seen a trailer for the film knows that the movie suggests Kyle is some sort of raging paranoiac. Flight manifests and a few phone calls verify that Kyle's daughter was never even on the plane.

Is Kyle crazy? Is her daughter simply hanging out in an airplane bathroom trying to flush her teddy bear? Is the mysterious Arab passenger at the front of the plane responsible for a kidnapping?

It was right around the time the Arab passenger was introduced as a suspect that I started not giving a damn about the outcome. The film's attempt to resolve its politically incorrect issues is downright lame. In the end, the writing comes off as desperate and unoriginal, and major questions about Kyle's suspicions go unanswered. Flightplan tries to position an American woman being paranoid about an Arab passenger as prejudiced behavior, and the film's childish execution of this obviously sensitive issue is amateurish.

The film has some reasonably good performances. Peter Sarsgaard, as an air marshal concerned for the safety of the passengers, is serviceable until his part goes all nutty. Sean Bean, as an appropriately stiff airline pilot, delivers a well-modulated performance.

Foster actually disappoints a bit. Her protective mom routine worked real well in her last American film, Panic Room, but this time out, she's too over the top. Sure, the script calls for hysteria, but this is something we've seen Foster do before. It's as if she referenced her Panic Room performance and simply turned up the same characteristics a few notches for Kyle. Foster is usually quite picky with her projects, so it's surprising to see her headline something so routine and mundane.

The film goes for one last big twist that actually results in deflating the movie's tension, something it maintains reasonably well for its first half. The movie's priorities are all screwed up. They take a great idea and squander it, copping out with a finale that utterly wastes a decent first half.

This is one of those movies that is really bothersome during the ride home afterwards. You and your viewing companion will probably start grilling each other about loopholes, coming to realize the film is just bollocks. Flightplan thinks it is oh so clever, while it's nothing of the sort.

In the pantheon of airplane-disaster flicks, it actually ranks below Airport '77, where plane crash passengers survived for a couple of hours inside a 747 at the bottom of the Bermuda Triangle. That movie actually felt more credible than this one.

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