Red Eye

(2005) *** Pg-13
86 min. DreamWorks. Director: Wes Craven. Cast: Rachel McAdams, Cillian Murphy, Brian Cox, Laura Johnson, Max Kasch.

In a time when Hollywood doesn't even seem to try anymore in the popcorn genres of horror, thriller, and even action, who will save us? Unlikely as it sounds, Wes Craven banishes the memory of Cursed to bring us a lean thriller that's just right for armrest-gripping. The tension is high, literally, in Craven's Red Eye, an unpretentious suspense story that mostly plays out on an airplane.

Hotel manager Lisa Reisert (played by Rachel McAdams of Wedding Crashers) winds up the seatmate of Jackson Rippner, an attractive young man played by Cillian Murphy of Batman Begins. Jackson...Rippner...he sounds like a bad guy. You think? When Rippner turns menacing, Reisert must marshal all of her resources to save the day.

Craven turns the claustrophobic setting to his advantage, using intense close-ups of McAdams and Murphy to ratchet up the fear factor and, perversely, turn up the heat with an implied sexual threat (Craven chose the right two faces to crowd with his camera). After pressing our buttons about air travel, Craven arrives at a large-scale action scene, followed by slasher-in-the-house mechanics, but damn if he doesn't stage them expertly.

The reportedly untouched script of first-time screenwriter Carl Ellsworth hinges on a ridiculously fragile plan by the bad guys, but Rippner's flirtatious rap about whether Lisa has "the simplicity of the grapefruit or the complexity of the pineapple" proves that Ellsworth can turn a phrase.

Craven gets off on such touches (note the use of Dr. Phil's Self Matters as a plot device) and capitalizes on the story's countdown-clock energy; he's obviously having a ball storming this barn. Don't leave home without your suspension of disbelief—I, for one, would like to see the words "no signal" and "low battery" banned from movies—but there's enough conviction from the leads to keep Red Eye gleefully scary.

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