Hippo Manchester
September 29, 2005


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Flightplan (PG-13)
by Amy Diaz

Jodie Foster quietly panics her way through another thriller in Flightplan, a movie of predictable but serviceable plot twists.

Saturday morning. Barring some sort of social engagement, you probably dress yourself thusly — jeans, first clean top you run into, hair-taming device (cap, ponytail holder, clip-thing), shoes that require the least amount of effort to put on. Usually, this outfit resembles something that a college student would wear to do laundry. Occasionally, however, you catch a reflection of yourself and are shocked to see that you look good — a study in casual grace, in relaxed down-to-earth attractiveness.

Flightplan is that pair of jeans that is unexpectedly flattering with your faded top and too-flashy sandals. Very little care appears to have gone into its assembly and any one item (acting, dialogue, plot, visuals) is individually disinteresting at best. But together it looks not half bad — good enough not to shock anyone with awfulness.

Flightplan, in essence, is that outfit you wouldn’t wear to a restaurant but feel relatively comfortable in at the mall.

I’m sure being “not awful” isn’t exactly Jodie Foster’s career goal but when you’re only running at half speed you can’t expect miracles. It takes us a while to warm up to Kyle (Foster), a plane designer who has recently lost her husband. She and her 6-year-old daughter Julia (Marlene Lawston) are headed back to New York after years in Berlin. They load up their luggage and their dead patriarch and head home in a ridiculously lavish plane. After liftoff, the ladies retire to the improbably empty rows in the plane’s rear and fall asleep. When Kyle wakes up, Julia is gone.

What follows is, essentially, a really long, slow version of where’d-I-leave-the-car-keys. Kyle looks everywhere, panics a little, looks some more, panics some more, gets others to look and slowly sucks into her drama the entire population of the plane as her panic grows like yeast-filled dough. At some point in the search, the possibility is raised that perhaps Kyle never even had a daughter on the plane. So then we get the panic flavored with doubt. Peter Sarsgaard plays an air marshal adding just the right amount of post-9/11 paranoia and jumpiness to the situation.

What makes Flightplan work well enough to keep you from just wanting the damn plane to land already is the inherent bitchiness and lack-of-sympathy in the flight staff. Flight attendants and commercial airline pilots may be perfectly nice people with homes and children and hopes and dreams. But get these people in the air and they seem like evil sadists. The flight attendants here — crisp uniforms adding to masks of hardness — are unfeeling and bitter and use the regulations to torture their passengers, seemingly with glee. When — about half way through the movie — tensions among passengers threaten to come to blows, you’re almost surprised that no one thinks to take a pop at the stewardesses, just for the hell of it.

The indignities of modern air travel make this kind of merciless skewering such a welcome sight that you can almost overlook the movie’s general sloppiness. Like a faded but still legible novelty shirt, Flightplan  still offers mild amusement.