Movie review by Greg Carlson
In “Red Eye,” beloved genre director Wes Craven deftly handles a ridiculously illogical screenplay that reaches for the single-mindedness of Hitchcock thrillers like “Rope” and “Lifeboat.” Brief in both duration and intellect, “Red Eye” keeps expectations low as it races through its mostly predictable contents and coasts on the charm of its attractive leads Rachel McAdams and Cillian Murphy. Set almost entirely on an overnight Dallas to Miami flight, the film will only please viewers tantalized by high-concept, single location pressure cookers such as “Phone Booth” and “Panic Room.” “Red Eye” surely deserves points for its conciseness, but the overall effect is muted by a familiar climax enlivened chiefly by Craven’s always impressive ability to handle spine-tingling suspense.
McAdams plays resourceful Lux Atlantic front desk manager Lisa Reisert, a multi-tasker who can handle any emergency that comes her way. This is fortunate indeed, for Lisa ends up seated next to dashing charmer Jackson Rippner (Murphy), whose moniker alone should trigger alarm bells. Once the plane takes wing, Rippner delivers some alarming news: if Lisa refuses to use her authority to move the deputy director of Homeland Security into a different suite back at the hotel, the baddies will murder her father. Craven brushes aside the implausibility of the request (a seaside room, the thinking goes, offers the would-be assassins a clearer shot at the VIP) and starts to tighten the screws.
Craven manages to wring plenty of thrills out of the thin screenplay, but the tight-quartered setting ultimately proves to be as much of a liability as a conceptual strength. Unfortunately, the script introduces several passengers (the unaccompanied minor, the kindly senior citizen, the irate and impatient jerk, etc.) without developing the possibilities of their participation in the unfolding drama. Instead, each of the background players simply provides a fleeting moment that bumps the plot forward. The idea is that Lisa must dig down deep and rely only on herself and her wits, but “Red Eye” might have been more interesting had it developed a few of the peripheral characters.
Despite the always welcome presence of Brian Cox, who plays Lisa’s imperiled father, even the people close to Lisa fade into the background. The arguable exception is Lisa’s plucky underling Cynthia (Jayma Mays), who always seems on the verge of melting into a puddle when confronted with challenging hotel business. Mays, in a delightful performance, takes the plight of the harried, service industry people-pleaser to giddy ends, and Craven relishes the opportunity to play her limited screen time for laughs.
By the time the plane touches down, a few of “Red Eye’s” bolts have rattled loose. Lisa’s sprint through the airport with Rippner at her heels is so unlikely one wonders if the entire design is some tongue in cheek criticism of post 9/11 security conditions. Even more preposterous is the staging of the final cat-and-mouse showdown, at the home of Lisa’s pop (fortunately for her, the old man has kept her room – including her field hockey stick – just as it was when she was growing up). The saving grace of the movie’s by-the-numbers climax is Craven’s skill at shooting the scary hide and seek between Lisa and Rippner, and the director creeps through hallways and behind doors with chilling effectiveness. Perhaps next time the veteran will have better material.
This review was originally published in the High Plains Reader the week of 9/12/05.