Plane scary: Red Eye, white knuckles

Wes Craven has made some crappy pictures, but he hasn't completely lost his touch. Red Eye is a simple but effective thriller, a B movie elevated to B+ by the performances of its stars, Rachel McAdams (The Notebook, Wedding Crashers) and Cillian Murphy (28 Days Later, Batman Begins).


Okay, it's knocked back to B by a protracted hide-and-seek climax like the one that nearly ruined Murder by Numbers, but it's a good ride until then.

Playing on our heightened insecurity as travelers, Craven's Airport 2005 deals with things that can befall anyone who happens to be an innocent but pivotal link in an assassination plot.

Lisa Reisert (McAdams) is flying back from her grandmother's funeral in Dallas to Miami, where she works as a "people pleaser, 24/7" at a luxury hotel. The flight is delayed, but she finds a welcome distraction in a fellow passenger, Jackson Rippner (Murphy). He flirts with her in the airport, buys her a drink, then jokingly asks if she's stalking him when they find they have adjacent seats on the plane.

The romantic comedy mood soon shifts when Jackson reveals he's been stalking Lisa. In fact his assistant is sitting outside her father's (Brian Cox) house in a silver Beamer, waiting to kill the man if Lisa doesn't cooperate. If she does cooperate another man will be killed, a high muckity-muck in Homeland Security, Charles Keefe (Jack Scalia).

Once he's blown his own cover, Jackson is direct and ruthless. "Somebody wants to send a big, brash message," he explains. "That's their business. I do my part and move on."

It's as uncomplicated as the plot of Phone Booth, which screenwriter Carl Ellsworth cites as an inspiration. Once the wheels are set in motion, it's up to Lisa to prevent one murder without causing another.

You can pick Ellsworth's script apart on any number of grounds. Jackson and his people have been planning this for at least two months. Did they kill Lisa's 91-year-old grandmother to get her on a plane at the desired moment? How come the flight delay doesn't upset their timetable, when their target is arriving on a different flight that's not affected? And while the Dallas airport is crawling with security, how come there's not a cop to be seen in Miami's airport when Lisa and Jackson go running through?

Craven keeps the tension taut enough that such details won't bother most white-knuckle viewers, only those who look for flaws because they get more enjoyment from not enjoying a movie than from enjoying one.

McAdams and Murphy give performances beyond the call of duty for a genre film like this, advancing their status as rising stars. Also noteworthy is Jayma Mays, who makes an impressive debut as Cynthia, Lisa's flustered assistant at the hotel.

As noted, Red Eye is more successful in the air than after it lands, but for a good hour it's just plane scary.