There are two movies at odds with each other in “Flightplan.” The first occupies the beginning half of the film, wherein “propulsion engineer” Kyle Pratt (Jodie Foster, doing her usual fine job) boards a flight from Berlin to the States with her daughter Claudia and the coffin containing her recently deceased husband (the coffin rides in the cargo hold, of course). The plane is a brand new monstrosity that Kyle helped design, conveniently enough, and features all the amenities, including individual TV screens, a full bar, and flight attendants under the age of 40.
Kyle and Claudia go to sleep for a few hours. When she wakes up, her daughter is nowhere to be found. After a cursory search of the plane doesn’t turn her up, Kyle’s panic level understandably escalates and she ends up getting the entire plane involved in looking for her kid. Trouble is, no one – not the attendants, not her fellow passengers, not friendly air marshal Carson (Peter Sarsgaard, whose dead reptilian eyes are always an amusing diversion) – remembers seeing Claudia. Kyle begins to seriously question her own sanity after the captain (Sean Bean) unearths new information that calls into question whether the little girl was ever on board at all.
To this point, “Flightplan” is engaging enough as a Hitchcock homage (or rip-off, if you prefer). Could Kyle really be nuts? Is it possible that an entire plane full of people could overlook a child’s presence? These questions never get serious attention, however, once the second act and the requisite twist comes into play. Nothing will be given away here, but anyone who’s been paying attention to Hollywood for the last 20 years can probably guess where things are going.
Foster effectively pulls us in as the mother who may or may not be out of her bean during the first act, but no amount of thespian prowess can save “Flightplan” from its predictable plot, formulaic ending, and patently insulting script. To believe the ultimate premise of this film, you have to swallow a dozen or so unlikely assumptions about the principals’ behavior and conveniently ignore a couple of red herrings that are dropped for no other reason than the writers seemed unable to mesh them with their desired climax. One in particular is so obnoxious I thought I’d hallucinated the whole thing until I confirmed with the person sitting next to me at the screening that it had, in fact, taken place onscreen.
Foster doesn’t make a lot of movies these days (two Oscars mean you don’t have to appear in crap like “Siesta” anymore), but I’m starting to wish she’d be a little more selective about what she deigns to appear in. As it is, “Flightplan” is half of a pretty good movie.
But to maintain that impression, I recommend you take a nap for the last 40 minutes.