Anyone else tired of seeing that damn trailer for Flightplan? Ever since maybe June, I’ve been seeing Jodie Foster freak out on an airplane. The trailer also had the misfortune of revealing way too much information about the film’s plot, seriously spoiling a key moment. This got me thinking about other movie trailers that spoil the movie. The worst offender I can fathom is 1998’s The Negotiator, where Samuel L. Jackson and Kevin Spacey are pitted against each other as hostage negotiators on opposite sides. The trailer had the nerve to reveal that Spacey and Jackson team up in the end to fight The Man collectively. Why does it seem that movie trailers these days spell out film twists? Are movie audiences demanding more investment before shelling out money? Do studios just not have faith in audiences anymore? With all this in mind, I ventured into Flightplan with my family thinking there might be more to the film than one poorly spoiled twist. I was wrong.
Kyle Pratt (Foster) is a very distraught woman. She’s returning from Berlin to the United States with the casket of her dead husband aboard. To make things worse, at 30,000 feet her daughter Julia goes missing. Kyle looks around the giant aircraft that she helped design, still not finding any trace of her absent little girl. Kyle becomes more frantic the more she looks and finds nothing, troubling an air marshal (Peter Sasrgaard) and the pilot (Sean Bean). No one remembers seeing Julia on board. She believes her daughter is somewhere and someone is definitely responsible. Kyle is dealt a crushing blow when word comes from a Berlin mortician that not only is the plane carrying the body of her dead husband but also her dead daughter. Is Kyle right or is she one crazy mamma? And so the drama unfolds.
Flightplan is a rather boring trip. Well over half of this movie is spent watching Kyle wig out and search compartments for her missing kid. She’s frantic and possessed and it’s interesting to watch a woman come undone, especially of Foster’s talent, but after several searches and little progression, the film feels like it’s going nowhere. There’s very little story for very long stretches of time. Flightplan relies on its outlandish final twists to provide a story, because without them the film would just have been 60 minutes of a mother freaking out on a plane. You can see that with home movies.
The premise is a direct homage (or rip-off) of Hitchcock’s The Lady Vanishes, but Flightplan could have been something special if it wasn’t so afraid of going against convention. The film sets up our leading lady looking for her missing child, and as the hours tick away she becomes more and more undone, practically terrorizing the other passengers. In a bit of incisive bigotry, Kyle even unfairly blames a pair of Middle Eastern passengers, who then garner everyone’s suspicious eyes. Now, with all this set up, what if Flightplan took a different path and we remained in doubt whether Kyle ever had a living daughter, and then through her grief, confusion, frustration, and misplaced anger she became a terrorist and was the cause of the plane going down. Wouldn’t that be neat? A little thought-provoking about role reversals in a post-9/11 anxiety-riddled world? It’s not like I expected a dour, Twilight Zone-esque ending, but Flightplan presents Kyle as a crazy woman with the entire world against her, and yet the movie virtually winks at you to say, “Don’t worry, this is Hollywood, no matter how outlandish the conspiracy, our heroine will always be right.” At the end, the film even has the distasteful audacity to have a scene where Kyle walks past every airline passenger, shaming them for having ever doubted a crazy loud woman who had terrified them and jeopardizing their safety. Shame on you all, passengers. Don’t you know that she’s Jodie Foster? She has TWO OSCARS! Kyle doesn’t even offer an apology to the Middle Eastern passengers, and they even carry her bags for crying out loud!
There’s suspension of disbelief and then there’s Flightplan. The missing-daughter scheme is so ridiculous, so convoluted, so rickety, that it makes Scooby-Doo schemes look downright like Hitchcock. For those who have seen the film, or just want to know the laundry list of variables to allow this plan to work, read on (massive spoilers ahead). Apparently, the ones behind everything are the helpful air marshal and one stewardess. They want to squeeze 50 million dollars from the airline. This is the best way they propose to do so: First, they locate an airline engineer living abroad and kill her husband and make it look like suicide. Then they pay off the mortician so they can stash explosives in her husband’s security sealed coffin. Then apparently they know when Kyle will want to fly again and it also happens to be a flight that the marshal and the stewardess will be scheduled aboard. Now, once the plane is in flight, the marshal somehow manages to steal the little girl, awakening no one, takes Kyle?s boarding pass and doesn’t awaken her, and stows the little girl away without being seen. They then let Kyle go nuts looking for her missing tyke so they can, get this, have a credible hijacker that they can accuse of plotting to blow up the plane unless … she gets 50 million wired into an account. Afterwards, the marshal will somehow get the Feds to kill Kyle and he’ll slip the detonator in her cold dead hand. Oh, and the stewardess changes the flight manifest twice too. What. The. Hell? Does this sound like the easiest way to make money? This plan also involves Kyle wiggling her way into the cargo hold and manually opening her hubby’s casket with the security code so that the marshal can get a hold of the hidden explosives. This entire tortuous plan revolves around a primary assumption that NO ONE will remember or interact with Kyle’s daughter the entire time. This assumes not a single person will remember little Julia, even though mother and daughter boarded first onto an empty plane. What would happen if Julia hit the call button for a pillow? Oops. What would happen if anyone next to them just said, “Hi?” Oops. What would happen if people on the plane contacted anyone at the airport? Oops. The entire conspiracy rests on 400 people’s bad memories. Those do not seem like good odds to me, but then again I’m not a movie villain. The entire heft of Flightplan is built around the revealing of this nefarious, fool-proof plot. The movie can’t help but crash and burn with such a laughable, preposterous Big Twist to give plausibility to the proceedings.
It’s a shame because Foster gives a real nail-biting performance. She’s splendidly rattled and lets the audience see the gears of fear turn in her eyes. The acting as a whole is the lone strength of Flightplan. Foster provides entertainment just from her sheer talent to be able to make a turkey like this flick even remotely watchable. The rest of the cast is okay to good and they all deserve pilot wings for keeping straight faces.
Flightplan is a timid, tedious, tiresome, and painfully preposterous thriller. Foster’s excellent performance is wasted in a film that spins its wheels before unleashing a dreaded torrent of illogical plot twists. You may be twisting your head around just to understand how any of this deeply flawed movie could be plausible. Flightplan should appeal to people that liked 2004’s The Forgotten, a very similar child-vanishes thriller. Another thing both movies have in common is that they’re utterly terrible.
Nate’s Grade: C-