- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 18, 2005

Never mess with a woman who’s read a Dr. Phil self-help book cover to cover. The terrorist in the new Wes Craven thriller “Red Eye” finds this out the hard way, but the horror director should have known that an invincible damsel precludes distress — and high suspense.

The film’s heroine, Lisa Reisert (“Wedding Crashers’ ” Rachel McAdams), isn’t just feisty, she’s an ultimate fighter compared to the film’s hapless villain, played by Cillian Murphy. That cuckoo dynamic forces “Red Eye” to surrender any chance of becoming a late-season sleeper.

Instead, it’s a neat hour-long thriller with a hasty — and convoluted — finale tacked on.

Lisa is a professional people pleaser at a chic hotel, but when she’s forced to take the red eye home after her grandmother’s funeral she’s out of her element.

She hates to fly — and who doesn’t detest the long lines and irate passengers of the post-September 11 airport?

We can relate. It’s one way Mr. Craven wins us over early on.

Lisa passes time with a charming fellow passenger named Jackson (Mr. Murphy). The two casually flirt over a drink until boarding begins.

They reunite on the plane — it turns out they’re sitting next to one another.

That’s no coincidence.

Jackson has been watching Lisa for weeks to prepare for the flight. He’s part of a terrorist plot, the details of which are never clear and are whitewashed of any radical Islamist elements. His plans depend on Lisa’s hotel, where the deputy secretary of the Department of Homeland Security stays on occasion.

And she better cooperate, since Jackson’s thugs are sitting outside her father’s house and will kill him if she doesn’t do exactly as he says.

Mr. Craven, the “Scream” master and the man behind Freddy Krueger’s “Nightmares,” appears right at home toiling in less horrific terrain. What his slick touch can’t redeem is the smallness of the main terrorist plot. We don’t get to know anything about the official in peril, either, and the evildoers themselves barely make an impression.

That isn’t true of Mr. Murphy’s character, at least at first. His transition from charismatic stranger to heartless killer is the film’s second tastiest treat, that is until he changes a final time into a wheezing antagonist.

What’s first? Watching Miss McAdams follow a similar arc from cornered lamb to roaring lion.

She’s Jennifer Garner 2.0 but without the “Alias” star’s stoic posturing.

“Red Eye” bears more than a passing resemblance to “Phone Booth,” the 2002 film featuring another tightly paced story that trades logic for adrenaline.

Both clock in at under 90 minutes and have nary a wasted frame between them. Of course, neither knew how to sustain the tension established in the early going.

Perhaps Mr. Craven himself should seek out a self-help guru to figure out the final act of his next project.

** 1/2

WHAT: “Red Eye”

RATING: PG-13 (some intense sequences of violence and coarse language)

CREDITS: Directed by Wes Craven. Screenplay by Carl Ellsworth. Story by Mr. Ellsworth and Dan Foos.

RUNNING TIME: 85 minutes

WEB SITE: www.redeye-themovie.com

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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