“We have clearance Clarence.” “Roger, Roger. What’s our vector Victor?” Just be sure you don’t call her Shirley, OK?

“We have clearance Clarence.” “Roger, Roger. What’s our vector Victor?” Just be sure you don’t call her Shirley, OK?

Rated 2.0

Jodie Foster went away for a little while, and that’s sad. Even sadder is that her first American movie in three years, Flightplan, is a dud, a silly airplane thriller that asks its audience to swallow way too many outrageous circumstances on the way to its letdown finale.

A combination of good writing and directing can result in outlandish stuff being acceptable in a decent Hollywood thriller. Director Robert Schwentke and his writing staff simply fail on both fronts. One too many twists and some rather bad-taste moments kill the film’s potential. After the midway point, it becomes standard, routine stuff. In the post-9/11 world, if you’re going to make a film about terror on an airplane, you better be on your game. Schwentke’s effort is bush league.

Foster plays Kyle, a recently widowed aircraft engineer (the first of many ridiculous plot conveniences) who is taking her daughter on a transatlantic flight to New York with her husband’s body in the cargo hold. Three hours into the flight, she awakens from a nap to discover that her daughter has gone missing. Anybody who has seen a preview trailer for the film knows that the movie suggests Kyle is some sort of raging paranoiac. Flight manifests and a few phone calls verify that Kyle’s daughter was never even on the plane.

Is Kyle crazy? Is her daughter simply hanging out in an airplane bathroom trying to flush her teddy bear? Is the mysterious Arab passenger at the front of the plane responsible for a kidnapping?

It was right around the time the Arab passenger was introduced as a suspect that I started not giving a damn about the outcome. The film’s attempt to resolve its politically incorrect issues is downright lame. In the end, the writing comes off as desperate and unoriginal, and major questions about Kyle’s suspicions go unanswered. Flightplan tries to position an American woman’s paranoia about an Arab passenger as prejudiced behavior, and the film’s execution of this sensitive issue is amateurish.

Flightplan has some reasonably good performances. Peter Sarsgaard as an air marshal concerned for the safety of the passengers is serviceable until his part goes all nutty. Sean Bean, as an appropriately stiff airline pilot, delivers a well-modulated performance.

Foster actually disappoints a bit. Her protective mom routine worked real well in Panic Room, but this time out, she’s too over-the-top. Sure, the script calls for hysteria, but this is something we’ve seen Foster do before. It’s as if she referenced her Panic Room performance and turned the same characteristics up a few notches for Kyle. Foster is usually quite picky with her projects, so it’s surprising to see her headlining something so routine and mundane.

The film goes for one last big twist that actually results in deflating the tension the movie maintains for its first half. The movie’s priorities are all screwed up. They take a great idea and squander it, copping out with a finale that utterly wastes a decent buildup.

This is one of those movies that are really bothersome during the ride home afterwards. You and whoever you should happen to see the movie with will probably start grilling each other about loopholes, coming to realize the film is just bollocks. Flightplan thinks it is oh-so-clever, while it’s nothing of the sort. In the pantheon of airplane disaster flicks, it actually ranks below Airport ‘77, where plane crash passengers survived for a couple of hours inside a 747 at the bottom of the Bermuda Triangle. That movie actually felt more credible than this one.