Wes Craven, the man who made us Scream over and over again, switches from horror to terror with Red Eye, a Hitchcockian thriller set on a late-night flight from Dallas to Miami. To say that the plane encounters some turbulence would be an understatement. By the time it touches down in the Sunshine State, a terrorist plot to assassinate the U.S. deputy secretary of Homeland Security, along with his family, will be well under way. There's just one little task left to perform ' convincing one of the passengers, a hotel manager played by Rachel McAdams, to change the deputy secretary's room assignment. You'd think a gun to her head might do the trick. But in the grand old Hollywood tradition, Red Eye has come up with a scenario that's much more entertainingly far-fetched.
A member of the hospitality industry, McAdams' Lisa aims to please. And maybe that's why she doesn't notice that there's something a little creepy about Jackson Rippner (Cillian Murphy), a fellow passenger whom she meets when there's a dispute in the ticket line, then just happens to be sitting next to on the plane. For most of us, the name alone (Jackson the Rippner) would have sent up a red flag. Then there's Murphy's eyes ' glass orbs a sinister shade of blue. Between this and his sicko-psycho routine in Batman Begins, Murphy is surely the frontrunner for Best Villain at next year's MTV Movie Awards. But he has just enough charm to convince us that a sweetie like Lisa might be willing to spend some quality time with him while waiting for the complimentary beverage service.
It's those early scenes, when Lisa has no idea whom she's dealing with, that give off a Hitchcockian chill. And the movie is, in a certain sense, the story of a flirtatious encounter that goes horribly awry. But it's also the first movie that's delved into our post-9/11 frustrations with air travel ' the delays, the cancellations, the possibility that the little old lady in the aisle seat has a bomb tucked away in her knitting bag. Exploitive? Sure, but the connection does add an extra dollop of flop sweat, not that the movie needs an extra dollop. Craven keeps the tension mounting, turning the plane's cramped quarters to his advantage. He's less successful once the plane lands, indulging in the very slasher-film tropes he so knowingly sent up in Scream. Even so, don't expect this thing to be among the in-flight movie options anytime soon.