By Chris Barsanti | August 20, 2005

Americans have gotten pretty skittish about air travel since 9-11. Even before there was a danger of flying into skyscrapers, you always had to contend with turbulence, seat-kicking kids, and the occasional high-speed encounter with a mountain. Now, thanks to Wes Craven, we can add “evil mercenary seat neighbor” to the list.

In “Red Eye,” Craven’s latest since the aptly titled Cursed, hardworking Lisa Reisert (Rachel McAdams) is catching the last flight back to Miami after her grandmother’s funeral. Lisa is a depressingly nice person, who defuses a confrontation between an irate passenger and an airline ticket agent, and solves problems – over the phone – with one of the customers at the luxury hotel she manages. While waiting for her flight to leave, she meets Jackson (Cillian Murphy), a fellow lone traveler. The two hit it off over drinks at the airport bar and, coincidence of coincidences, end up seated next to each other once the much-delayed flight finally takes off.

Obviously, Jackson isn’t the harmless urban professional he seems to be. Once in the air, he presents his ultimatum: Lisa must call her hotel and change the room reservation for the Deputy Secretary of Department of Homeland Security, who will be arriving shortly to kick off a tour of Southern port cities. If she doesn’t, her father will be messily slain by the man Jackson has stationed outside his house. All she has to do is make a simple call on the airphone and her ordeal will be over.

For a movie that spends over half its running time inside a plane, “Red Eye” is surprisingly effective. Craven eschews horror trappings and gore for a well-paced and engaging thriller that keeps the audience involved despite the fact that most of what takes place onscreen is a conversation between two people. Even when the film inevitably moves on to its action movie climax, things remains tense. “Red Eye” clocks in at just under 90 minutes, and both Craven and first-time screenwriter Carl Ellsworth waste little time getting things started.

As Lisa, McAdams is quite believable. I haven’t caught many of the other movies she’s made to this point, but if her work here is any indication, she’ll be around for a while. Murphy starts out strong, even if he’s not entirely convincing as Mr. Nice Guy. Unfortunately, there’s a bit too much of the unstoppable lunatic to his performance in the last act. And Jack Scalia must have compromising photos of David Geffen, because he’s the last person I expected to see in a relatively high profile role (as Deputy Secretary Keefe). Good for him.

If there’s any complaint to be made here, it’s the crappy marketing. If you’ve seen the trailers for “Red Eye,” you probably already have a pretty good idea what happens, which is a shame. DreamWorks should have presented this as a trifling romantic comedy, which would’ve made Murphy’s revelation (which still comes rather early in the film) all the more shocking. As it is, most people will already have a pretty good idea where things are going, which dilutes the film’s effectiveness.

And the plot involving Scalia’s character is, shall we say, a tad…indelicate.

For a movie getting unceremoniously released during the dog days of the summer movie season, “Red Eye” deserves a look. At the very least, it should freak enough people out that you won’t have to deal with mind-numbing small talk on your next flight.

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