Since almost everyone can either identify with the fear of misplacing a child or the fear of being trapped on an airplane with an unstable person, "Flightplan" is a guaranteed thrill ride for all.
But the stomach-churning roller-coaster ride is made turbulent by an implausible plot. From the very beginning, a gnawing sense of "this just wouldn't happen" infects every scene, killing what could be a lovely little movie buzz.
Jodie Foster again plays the tough single mom protecting her child from the most unlikely of treacherous circumstances. It's like "Panic Room," but at 40,000 feet.
In "Flightplan," she's Kyle Pratt, an aeronautics engineer whose husband dies in a freak accident. She and her very frightened 6-year-old daughter, Julia, fly from Berlin to New York on an enormous new jet. A state-of-the-art airliner fresh from the drafting table, a casket in the hold and a grieving woman with a traumatized child -- the stage is perfectly set for scares in the sky.
The film also throws in, to un-PC effect, some Muslim passengers. Their involvement wavers between "integral" and "red herring" several times, toying with our fragile, irrational post- 9/1 1 psyches.
Shortly after takeoff, Kyle wakes from a nap and realizes Julia isn't in her seat. She asks the icy, procedure-first flight attendants to help her search. Soon they're dubious, and the captain (Sean Bean) asks the widow whether she's on prescription drugs. After she reveals she was prescribed an anti-anxiety in the wake of her husband's death, knowing looks are exchanged and a therapist is found to talk to Kyle about the power of delusion amid grief. An air marshal (Peter Sarsgaard) guards her.
Kyle doesn't give up so easily, though, and what we get is an hour and a half of her sprinting down aisles, climbing and descending into holds and frantically screaming at stewardesses in galleys. It's claustrophobic, tense and paranoid. If you're into this kind of thing, it's exhilarating.
Except that none of this could ever happen. The third act (which heavily involves the excellent Sarsgaard) completely unravels, preposterously.
The characters aren't well-articulated, either, with everyone falling into the broad categories of put-upon passengers, emotionless crew members and the elegantly authoritarian captain (a wonderful performance by Bean).
Few actresses take punches and put their lives on the line for their onscreen kids like Foster does. The tension in "Flightplan" is real; the story, however, is as unbelievable as the existence of good airline food.
Review: 3 stars (Out of 4)
STARRING: Jodie Foster, Peter Sarsgaard, Erika Christensen, Sean Bean
DIRECTOR: Robert Schwentke
RUNNING TIME: 93 minutes
RATING: PG-13 for violence and some intense plot material
THE LOWDOWN: A widow encounters a disbelieving flight crew when her 6-year-old daughter vanishes on an overnight flight to New York.