Release Date:  August 19, 2005
Rating:  PG-13 (intense sequences of violence and strong language)
Genre:  Thriller
Run Time:  85 min.
Director:  Wes Craven
Actors:  Rachel McAdams, Cillian Murphy, Brian Cox, Jayma Mays

Considered a master of horror, director Wes Craven occasionally diverts to something different.  “Red Eye” is one of those departures, although only slightly.  Trading gore for mile-high frights, Craven attempts Hitchcockian suspense in this high-concept thriller.  With his directorial skills on board, the film takes off but eventually the screenplay nosedives as “Red Eye” crashes and burns.

The best thrillers devise a singular conceit to accentuate for maximum anxiety.  On that note, “Red Eye” boasts a premise with promise.  Charming gentleman Jackson (Cillian Murphy) clicks with girl-next-door Lisa (Rachel McAdams) during a flight delay and, as fate would have it, they’re seated together when the plane finally departs.  Serendipity quickly turns sinister as Jackson reveals himself to be hit man, and "fate" has nothing to do with their seating arrangement.  Jackson needs Lisa’s connections at a posh hotel to stage a hit on a high-profile guest, and it all has to go down during Lisa’s wee-hours trip.

The setup builds nicely even knowing this nice guy will eventually flip on our All-American heroine, and the roles are perfectly cast.  McAdams is sweet, Murphy has an easy likeability and the two have chemistry.  Even when the story requires both personalities to shift dramatically, the two leads are up to the task.  The script, however, is not.

Thrillers must strike a balance between plausibility and dramatic license, and if their scales tip too much in favor of the latter then they lose all credibility.  “Red Eye” loses it.  Jackson’s threats initially hold weight, but the more he reveals his plans and contingencies the more you realize – particularly given the in-flight setting – how much of an upper hand Lisa has.  Lisa, though, never does. 

Even worse, the film assumes we’re too dumb to think things through, too.  Its minimal tension, however, allows thoughts of solutions you realize Lisa will never reach simply because the film would fall apart if she did.  Knowing this, the central conflict only comprises about 30 minutes of its padded 76-minute concept, so the dilemma doesn’t drag out too long before shifting to the third-act post-flight climax.

Still, with red-herring complications and worst-case scenario unlikelihoods, either too many obstacles keep Lisa from taking action or events conspire against her.  For a mere 30 minutes it all wears thin.  There’s even a moment where Jackson knocks Lisa out cold with a violent head-butt – and nobody in the cabin notices.  It’s fair for suspense yarns to expect us to buy into the occasional stretched-truth for the sake of the thrill-ride, but “Red Eye” requires us to be just plain stupid.  When a movie asks more from its audience than the audience asks from it, then the movie fails and that’s exactly why “Red Eye” falls apart.

Ironically, the earth-bound climax is the film’s least-grounded act.  As Lisa rushes to stop the hotel hit and save her father from a hit man of his own, her inexplicable decisions leave your mind screaming, “Why why why?!”  Aren’t there easier ways to deal with this than stealing idling vehicles and giving up on phone calls simply because your cell is dead?  Well of course there are, but none involve driving down a mercenary marksman through a wall, saving Daddy from near-peril, a cat-and-mouse “where’s the bad guy?” sequence or, basically, any scenario that allows Lisa to save the day.  Craven crafts these scenes extremely well, but it’s all so absurd (and the outcome so inevitable) that his cinematic flair is all for naught.