Mother loses her daughter and maybe her mind in ‘Flightplan’

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In “Flightplan,” Jodie Foster stars as Kyle Pratt, a woman mourning the unexpected death of her husband. While transporting his casket from Berlin to New York, Kyle faces every mother’s worst nightmare when her young daughter Julia (Marlene Lawston) vanishes mid-flight. Already emotionally devastated, Kyle desperately struggles to prove her sanity to the disbelieving flight crew and passengers, while facing the possibility that she may be losing her mind.

Though neither the Captain (Sean Bean), nor Air Marshal (Peter Sarsgaard) want to doubt the bereaved widow, she is desperate and alone. Kyle can only rely on her wits to solve the mystery and save her daughter – if she does in fact exist.

Aside from a small cameo in the French film, “A Very Long Engagement,” this is Jodie Foster’s first film since 2002’s “Panic Room.” In fact, “Flightplan” plays out like “Panic Room” on an airplane. Both films take place in a confined and claustrophobic setting with Jodie Foster as a widow trying to protect her daughter from some villain who is after them.

While it is decent entertainment, “Flightplan” fails at what it is ultimately trying to be – a claustrophobic Hitchcockian thriller. In fact, it borrows from one of the Hitchcock’s very best, 1938’s brilliant comic mystery “The Lady Vanishes.” In this case, it is not an old lady who disappears, but a young girl. It does not take place on a train, but on a state-of-the-art two-story airplane.

That is where the film “Bunny Lake is Missing” comes in. The 1965 thriller, directed by Otto Preminger, concerns a woman who drops her daughter off at a new boarding school, and when she goes to pick her up, no one can remember seeing the young girl. Laurence Olivier is an inspector who tries to discover the truth, and, gasp, realizes the little girl might not exist. Sound familiar?

“Flightplan” borrows heavily from these two classic films, as well as many recent thrillers using the same plot devices, and plot twists, but upping the action and violence, while putting in a morality lesson that not all Arabs are terrorists.

Although “Flightplan” does not have an original idea in its contrived script, it is suspenseful enough, and entertaining throughout, but it just doesn’t seem enough. The plot twists don’t make much sense, and the film is full of holes, which unfortunately, need to be disregarded for full enjoyment of the film.

By Hollywood standards, we get the predictable outcome we have come to expect, but the more cardinal offense here is that this is a story where you can not imagine a satisfying outcome anyway.

If the daughter was never there, we have been watching a madwoman run over everyone for nearly two hours, and becomes a ‘Sixth Sense” type ending all over again.

And if she was there, it would seem odd that with all the passengers and crew, no one saw her.

“Flightplan” does not try to be “Citizen Kane,” or make much sense. It just wants to entertain and it does.

Hollywood stopped having original ideas years ago and have been bombarding us with rip-offs and remakes for years. In fact, Reese Witherspoon is rumored to star in a remake of “Bunny Lake Is Missing” next year. It is no wonder the box-office is at its worse slump in years.

“Flightplan” is decent enough entertainment, but it’ll be forgotten by morning. If “Red Eye” is still playing, at least you can plan to waste your time a little more efficiently. Or better yet, go out and rent “The Lady Vanishes” and “Bunny Lake is Missing” and journey back to the days when movies were more than just entertaining, they were actually great.

Sahag Gureghian can be reached at ane@sundial.csun.edu.