Red Eye (United States, 2005)

A movie review by James Berardinelli

Red Eye belongs to the genre in which a director attempts to sustain a heightened level of suspense for long enough that the audience will not notice how incredibly stupid the screenplay is. Alfred Hitchcock was a master at this - although some of the scripts he worked with were masterpieces, one could argue that his true skill as a filmmaker was evident with those that weren't. More recently, Phone Booth and Cellular achieved success by doing as much as possible with a thin and implausible premise. Wes Craven's Red Eye is more of a mixed bag. There are stretches during the course of this 85-minute long motion picture when the director elevates the tension to an acceptable plateau, but there are also occasions when too much of the narrative seeps through and we see the seams in the storytelling.

Red Eye introduces us to Lisa Reisert (Rachel McAdams), who is stuck in a Texas airport on one of those days when weather issues make travel more of a trial than usual. After Lisa's regularly scheduled flight to Miami is canceled, she snags a seat on the red eye, then settles down with her cell phone to wait. Business intrudes, as Lisa's fill-in at a swank Florida hotel calls with an urgent need for advice. Apparently, although Lisa appears to be little more than a glorified receptionist, she's the most trusted person at the multi-million dollar hotel, and nothing can get done without her. But I digress… A suave international type with the unlikely name of Jackson Rippner (Cillian Murphy) chats up Lisa in the airport lounge, then, lo and behold, ends up in the seat next to her on the plane. At first, Lisa can't decide whether or not she's attracted to him, but, after the plane takes off and they start having a heart-to-heart, she discovers that the stomach-lurching turbulence the plane is enduring is a minor irritant compared to the dilemma she is about to face.

Red Eye is divided into three clearly identifiable acts. The first is setup. The second feels like more setup, but is actually the meat of the story. And the third is where all the good stuff occurs. Unfortunately, that means viewers have to sit through nearly an hour's worth of material before Craven starts ratcheting up the tension. The final 30 minutes are taut, and by then the adrenaline is flowing, but Red Eye takes too long to come up to speed. Consequently, the payoff - such as it is - is brief (although satisfactory).

The movie starts out by trying to fool us into believing we're going to watch an airport-based romance, but there are a couple of clues that this is a red herring. In the first place, it's hard to imagine Cillian Murphy as a romantic lead. The guy is too creepy. That's like making a love story starring Crispin Glover or Peter Lorre. Then there's the director. Wes Craven does not make romantic movies, unless it's about the tender kiss between a serrated knife and a jugular. Excepting the mainstream misfire Music of the Heart, Craven has remained a genre director, and that genre has nothing to do with love.

Red Eye's problems arise not only from the protracted airport scenes but from the lack of tension while the characters are seated next to each other. We learn that Lisa's life is not in immediate danger (although her ground-bound father's is), which dampens the excitement of what transpires. Plus, there's a limit to what can happen in a crowded plane without raising the suspicion of other passengers. Once the plane has landed, however, possibilities open up, and Craven takes advantage of them. Suddenly, Lisa is in mortal danger, Jackson has given up all pretense of being cultured (he's into full psycho mode), and things start happening at a rapid clip.

Rachel McAdams continues to expand her range on her climb to what will likely be A-list status. (She's too good and too attractive to end up elsewhere.) In her last three movies, she has appeared in a romantic comedy (Wedding Crashers), a romantic drama (The Notebook), and a satire (Mean Girls). Now she can add "Wes Craven thriller" to her resume. Cillian Murphy is exactly what we would expect from a guy named Jackson Rippner. He previously appeared with a burlap sack over his head as Scarecrow in Batman Begins, and I'm awaiting his inevitable collaboration with David Lynch. (How is not possible that such a strange director and strange actor could not work together at some point?) The only other cast member with significant time is the highly respected British actor Brian Cox, and he probably showed up for about a week's worth of filming. As Lisa's dad, he spends most of his time sipping tea and talking to her on the phone.

As B-movies go, Red Eye acceptable, although it's probably better as video or TV fare than as a theatrical experience. Because of the attention lavished on setup and exposition during the first half, the film stumbles out of the starting gate, and it seems like more than 25 minutes have passed before the plane's wheels leave the ground. Nevertheless, there are enough thrills during the final third to give Red Eye viewers a few of Craven's patented jolts near the end. But it requires forbearance for both a silly script and uneven pacing to get to that point.

Red Eye (United States, 2005)

Director: Wes Craven
Cast: Rachel McAdams, Cillian Murphy, Brian Cox
Screenplay: Carl Ellsworth
Cinematography: Robert D. Yeoman
Music: Marco Beltrami
U.S. Distributor: Dreamworks
Run Time: 1:25
U.S. Release Date: 2005-08-19
MPAA Rating: "PG-13" (Violence, Profanity)
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1