Stalls, Then Takes Nosedive

Nobody does intensity better than Jodie Foster. Even if you go way back into her career as a child actor, you could always see the wheels turning behind those blue eyes and tomboy face. She would later parlay these talents into two Oscar-winning performances, first as a rape victim in The Accused (1988), then in the horror-classic The Silence of the Lambs (1991), opposite Anthony Hopkins.

So where has Jodie been lately? The last time we saw her was three years ago in David Fincher’s disappointment Panic Room, where she played a mother desperate to protect her daughter from a home invasion. Foster returns in Flightplan, where she plays a mother desperate to protect her daughter from “kidnappers”. So is this Panic Plane?

Jet propulsion engineer Kyle Pratt (Foster) is flying to New York from Europe after the recent death of her husband. Her and her six-year-old daughter Julia (Marlene Lawston) are transporting his coffin back to the states for a proper burial. When Julia turns up missing, with no one recalling her even being on the plane, Ms. Pratt begins to question the competency of the crew and then her own sanity. If she didn’t imagine her daughter being with her, then where is Julia?

Flightplan starts with an intriguing concept. When the air marshal (Peter Sarsgaard) makes his presence known, he becomes the voice of the audience. He asks Foster’s character things like: Where’s your daughter’s boarding pass? Why is she not on the passenger manifest? Why didn’t any other passenger see her board the plane? Why would someone target you? All these are good questions, and the burden rests on the filmmakers to answer them adequately.

Unfortunately, the movie bites off way more than it can chew. After the moderately creepy setup, the film collapses in the third act, giving us a conventional action movie resolution (complete with plot holes you could fly a plane through). All the head games are dropped so Foster can kick ass. What starts out as a Twilight Zone episode ends up being Fly Hard-- and that’s not a good thing.

As always, Foster is reliable as the freaked-out mom who just wants her daughter back. She carries the movie on her back, but even her acting chops can’t save her from the corner the script paints her into. Her performance dictates that she should be in a better movie, not this bait-and-switch nonsense.

Earlier in the year I reviewed Red Eye, a much better thriller-on-a-plane that set the tone early and followed through. Flightplan veers all over the place then comes in for an unscheduled landing. Next time take the bus, Jodie!