Themed Jokes Can Cause Air-Sickness
This is one flight where I wish they’d changed the in-flight movie. Oh, god. I’m so embarrassed I wrote that joke. Not only that, I opened the review with it. I haven’t been this ashamed since the time I skipped high school to do mescaline and watch the OJ Simpson verdict on TV. But what’s more embarrassing is that I went to see this movie knowing it would be bad. After all, I’ve seen Red Eye and am therefore fully aware that something about plane movies turns screenwriters into semi-retarded Die Hard fans with a concept of logic looser than the women I sleep with. Maybe it’s writing 108 consecutive slug lines that start with INT. NIGHT. STILL IN THE FUCKING PLANE. that flicks on the idiot switch, but whatever it is, it’s generally clear by the third act that the writer is insane. Flightplan starts out coherently enough, with the usually dependable Jodie Foster grieving over her recently deceased husband, and boarding a plane with her quietly brooding daughter, who would be cute if her mouth didn’t look vaguely stained, like she just polished off a plate of Chef Boyardee and a cherry Popsicle. It’s after they board the plane that the plot starts to go a little screwy, though I was irritated far before that by director Robert Schwentke’s shot selection, which moves the camera around in a constant slow glide, like Michael Bay on half a Valium tablet.
Soon after they board the plane, Foster’s kid goes missing, and no one onboard seems to remember seeing her, including sky marshal Peter Saarsgard and pilot Sean Bean. I have no idea why Bean is allowed to fly a plane, since he’s been an Irish terrorist ever since he got his SAG card, but that’s the least of the film’s problems. Though Foster is a strong actress, she isn’t given much to do here, save occasionally pitting her sharp hatchet face against the puffy visage of Erika Christiansen, a fine actress who perpetually looks like she’s having a bad reaction to shellfish. Foster’s starting to look a little old and veiny, too, and though that doesn’t have an effect on her talent, it did spark a tangential discussion on the way home as to whether she was hotter as a child prostitute in Taxi Driver or getting gang-raped in acid washed jeans during The Accused. As much as she tries, however, Foster is not what destroys this movie. It’s the plot twists that do that, as surely as if someone had hijacked the direction and flown it into the Pentagon. The basic story of the film has us follow a sine-wave pattern, where we oscillate between believing that the daughter is missing, and thinking Foster stark raving mad. This confusion of our sympathies is interesting, I suppose, right up until it's resolved far too soon, through the trite mechanism of having Foster’s breath reveal that the young girl had written the entire script for The Lady Vanishes on one of the windows. From then on, Foster and the audience battle through disbelief and onward to the ludicrous ending. The whole thing is ridiculous and contrived, and apparently has the flight attendants union up in arms, mainly because it ends with the revelation that the stewardesses are witches and kidnapped the kid to make bone soup for the upcoming Walpurgis Night celebration.
Of course, this is not what actually happens, but the real ending is no less stupid. And though I’m not going to, I should have no qualms about spoiling the ending, because the trailer does it anyway. Well, it doesn’t actually show what happens when the high altitude asphyxiates the script into brain death, but it ruins the only tension the film has. By showing the scene where Foster finds the clue that finally convinces her that she’s not crazy, the audience is completely deprived of the narrative tension of the film. I understand that modern audiences want to know exactly what they’re getting into, lest they stumble into a good movie by mistake, but this is getting ridiculous. It’s gotten to the point where those of us who can think without the benefit of Coles’ Notes can guess the endings to films from the trailer, not merely the first thirty minutes as we’re accustomed to. I distinctly remember figuring out The Bone Collector on the way to the movie theatre, and this is not because I’m smart. Perhaps it’s not that I long for the days when trailers gave a taste of the film instead of telling the whole story, but rather than I’m hoping for a return to the time when movies couldn’t be boiled down to a 30 second rabbit skit. Maybe if the stories were more complicated, better written, and interestingly told, I wouldn’t have to suffer through watching the entirety of On The Line, including the final resolution, compressed into a two-minute mini-movie jammed before the DVD menu of Britney Spears' Crossroads. And then I wouldn’t have to add the embarrassment of publicly admitting to having seen that movie to the shame of opening with an airplane joke.