It’s not so unusual to find that Jodie Foster is the smartest thing about one of her own movies. Even when she’s slumming for a paycheck like she is in this potboiler, she projects a level of intelligence that often makes the film seem better than it really is.
Thus, it’s no surprise that Ms. Foster is the smartest thing about Flightplan. Sadly, that’s really no accomplishment, since the seat cushions on the airplane set are smarter than this simple, linear but mind-blowingly illogical rift on Hitchcock’s The Lady Vanishes. If a person had the same level of brain activity found in this script, he or she would be harvested for organs before the doctors pulled the plug.
The film begins at the creaking, ponderous pace that you get when a director with nothing to say thinks he’s being deep and profound. We meet Kyle Pratt (Foster) in the aftermath of her husband’s sudden death from a fall. The obtuse, sterile opening sequence in the mortuary makes me think that director Robert Schwentke was masturbating to a Kubrick film while he drew up the storyboards.
Kyle and her daughter, Julia (Marlene Lawston) are flying back to America with the husband’s body on a plane that Kyle helped design, a vast two-decker obviously modeled on the Airbus A380. During the flight Kyle wakes up from a nap to discover that Julia is nowhere to be found. After the flightcrew helps her search the plan, the captain (Sean Bean in a thankless role) reveals that the flight manifest doesn’t show her daughter’s name and no one can remember her. Worst of all, the mortician report shows that Julia Pratt was brought into the morgue at the same time as her father. This last detail should have prompted at least one character, presumably Kyle, to ask a blindingly obvious question. That no one does is indicative of the stupidity at the center of this plot.
Kyle’s increasingly frantic efforts to prove everyone wrong attract the increasingly unwelcome attention of a sky marshal named Carson (Peter Sarsgaard). His character’s role in this story is ultimately as predictable as it is completely unbelievable. Kyle manages to completely panic the passengers as she uses her knowledge of the plane’s inner workings to sabotage the plane, in the hopes of getting people to keep looking for her daughter. I don’t know, but if I’m trying to prove I’m not some crazy woman with an imaginary daughter, messing around with the plane’s avionics is not going to help my cause.
For someone like me, with a passing interest in aviation and a better-than-average knowledge of the subject, the details of the production design for the “Elgin E-474” are mostly good for a few laughs. On this supposedly state-of-the-art aircraft, the avionics bay looks like the audio patch board at a Grateful Dead concert. I wouldn’t have a lot of confidence in a plane built by a company that uses Radio Shack as a parts supplier. Then there is that room with the four giant rack mounted computers. Not only would this probably make the plane terribly nose-heavy, but to think that an airline, one of the most cost-conscious businesses going, would allow that much wasted space is ludicrous. Finally, we have those square windows. Guess no one on this movie had ever heard of the De Havilland Comet.
Without revealing too much of the story, the central plot of Flightplan manages to make the terrorist conspiracy in Red Eye seem almost plausible by comparison. For the first time that I can remember, a Jodie Foster film has made feel less intelligent for having watched it.