After the debacle that was “Cursed", it's not going too far to say that Wes Craven is due to deliver a good movie. To that, many will certainly scoff at the notion that the creator of Freddy Krueger could ever make a “good movie". To that, I beg to differ – although being a fan of Wes Craven can be as frustrating as being a fan of Brian Depalma or current-day George Lucas, one can't deny that what may sometimes be lacking in technique is often made up for in the ideas and concepts he puts forth in his genre offerings. For nearly every “Shocker" or “Swamp Thing", there is a “New Nightmare" or “The Hills Have Eyes", boldly taking us new places both cinematically and culturally. Even the popular “Scream" trilogy, although it weakened as it wore on (just as so many series' do), maintained a respectable level of high concept and meta-reality mixed among the gags and scares. Craven's latest, the commercial-airline-based “Red Eye" departs from the filmmaker's established territory, and while it's effectively entertaining as a thriller, its lack of any deeper levels ultimately strips it of the resonance we've come to expect from him. It is in fact so commercially pat, so non-threatening in its worldview that it could almost qualify to be an in-flight movie.
“Red Eye" is the simplest of stories – a freaky scary guy (Cillian Murphy) corners and threatens a cute isolated girl (Rachel McAdams) on a short commercial flight. Professionally, she manages a high-class hotel frequented by important government types, including the Chief of Homeland Security, who is the target of the scary guy's assassin pals. If McAdams doesn't co-operate, and move the Chief to the room the assassins need for him to be in, they'll kill her sweet old unsuspecting father (Brian Cox), who otherwise has nothing to do with any of this. Her fellow passengers – a nosy old woman, two punk teenagers, a snooty businessman, a sweet little girl, etc, - aren't exactly the high and the mighty. The film spends just enough time establishing them for us to understand that they cannot be relied upon for help. Murphy's terrorist, clunkishly named Jackson Rippner, is much too sharp for any makeshift, on-the-fly tactics to overtake him. McAdams is left to her own devices, and in a movie as full of plausible contrivances as this one is, she tries plenty of things to get her out of her dire situation.
Thanks in good measure to the solid performances of the two leads, the motions this story takes us through are believable and forgivable. In a weightier movie, these could've been star-making performances – McAdams is far more empathetic here than she was in “The Wedding Crashers", and Murphy really gets to display his villainous chops, previously only glimpsed during his turn as Scarecrow in “Batman Begins". Craven's directorial hand is able to fluidly move us through the film's four (count ‘em, four) locations that are of any note (fewer than your average episode of “Seinfeld"), and keeps us interested despite the fact that this is pure popcorn (or in this case, airline peanuts), and even then the story proper doesn't really kick in for over a half hour. Considering that this is only Craven's second step outside of his blood-drenched comfort zone, I'm willing to give him a healthy pass this time, even if his previous non-horror effort (“Music of the Heart") was also mired in cliché. (Or so I'm told – I still haven't bothered to see it. Or “Cursed", for that matter. I hear I'm not missing much.)
“Red Eye" honestly does exactly what it seems to set out to do, which is good to a point, but unfortunate that a film that tosses around so many hot-button issues (Homeland Security, terrorism on the airlines post 9/11, etc.) fails to make any kind of statement on them whatsoever. In a film that, for whatever reason, goes out of its way with its references to Dr. Phil and heightened airline security to demonstrate how “now" it is, it's kind of perplexing that Craven would sidestep the opportunity to offer up even the slightest opinion. Perhaps such a gesture would've left us with something to chew on as we left the theater and drove home. As it is now, “Red Eye" taxis down the runway and flies successfully enough for what it is, but if you've seen trailer, you've pretty much seen the film. “Red Eye" is worth a rental when it makes it to DVD (perhaps a purchase if you're a Craven fan and the extras warrant it), but I can't justify sending anyone to the theater for this. To a commercial flight showing it as the in-flight movie, however… only then could it be taken to a higher level.
- Jim Tudor