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      Red Eye Review

      Red Eye poster

      Red Eye

      Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

      The trailer for Wes Craven's "Red Eye" appears to be peddling a horror film, with a demon-eyed killer at 30,000 feet - flying coach, yet, to add to the unspeakable fright - preying on that toothsome "Wedding Crashers" squeeze of Owen Wilson's. The trailer is lying. Director Craven's brisk, efficient B movie has no supernatural element of any kind, unless you count the supernatural shade of white emanating from the pearlies of its star, Rachel McAdams. Any brighter, and her teeth could understudy the Burt Reynolds cap job in "The Dukes of Hazzard."

      But let's not allow megawatt dental matters to get in the way of a good actress with terrific camera rapport. McAdams plays Lisa Reisert, a sweet Miami hotel desk clerk stuck in the Dallas/Fort Worth airport, awaiting a break in some miserable weather so she can fly back to Florida after her grandmother's funeral. In the airport she meets a pleasant if vaguely unsettling stranger played by the blazingly blue-eyed Irish actor Cillian Murphy ("28 Days Later"). He comes with the "uh-oh!" character name of Jackson Rippner.

      With a blend of flirtation and evasion - "Should I be afraid of this guy?" can be glimpsed in every one of McAdams' close-ups - Lisa and Jackson have a drink at the airport bar. On board the plane they learn they're seatmates. And then? Whereas the "Red Eye" trailer suggests "My Demon Seatmate," the screenplay by feature-film newbie Carl Ellsworth reveals Jackson to be in on an assassination plot against a federal Homeland Security bigwig (Jack Scalia), who is visiting the Miami resort where Lisa works.

      "Red Eye" won't blow anyone's mind, but it's an engaging hybrid of cat-and-mouse hostage drama and more conventional killer-loose-in-the-house thrills. The latter take over once Lisa finds her way back to her childhood home, where Dad (Brian Cox, doing what he can with not much) is being set up for murder. The way Craven handles this hoary old setup, with snap and a sure rhythm, you never get that sickening feeling imparted by a lot of bigger, slicker, dumber formula jobs, the ones that jack up the peril to sociopathic heights. The movie's promotional materials include a quote from its producer calling the film "a nice, tight little thriller." When was the last time a producer actually told the truth in a press kit?

      McAdams, who resembles a more compact and subtle Geena Davis, captures both the strength and the insecurity beneath her sharp-witted heroine's aim-to-please facade. Working in a more claustrophobic and very different key than in his big franchise hits "A Nightmare on Elm Street" and "Scream," director Craven maximizes the clammy spatial confines of the airborne sequences. Early in the movie we meet a few of the other passengers, among them a kindly older woman with a thing for Dr. Phil and a first-time preteen flyer. These introductions impart a slight "Airport '75" shudder, but they pay off later, without a lot of fuss. Screenwriter Ellsworth exploits the audience's disdain for commercial air travel post-9/11 with some apt flourishes. In a United Airlines-aimed dig, one of the stewardesses aboard the (fictional) Fresh Air jet mutters to her co-worker: "First our pensions go, now our coffee pots."

      For much of its first hour "Red Eye" confines itself largely to the airplane, and in that time its only two acts of violence are sudden and effective. You suspect Craven, whose first "Nightmare on Elm Street" is far more inventive than people tend to remember, took on "Red Eye" not just as a change of genre pace but as a way to simultaneously tone up and strip down his craft. He's a veteran director challenging himself, to see if he can make a potentially static project fly, by way of judicious pacing and cutting and by working with the right actors. Even when the climax devolves into Yet Another Bad Man With a Big Knife chasing after Our Heroine, "Red Eye" is more suspenseful than sadistic. And if it ends up arguing for a massive increase in our nation's Homeland Security budget, then here, surely, is a film our commander-in-chief can enjoy with impunity while on vacation in Crawford.

      "Red Eye"

      Directed by Wes Craven; screenplay by Carl Ellsworth; photographed by Robert Yeoman; edited by Patrick Lussier and Stuart Levy; production designed by Bruce Alan Miller; produced by Chris Bender and Marianne Maddalena. A DreamWorks release; opens Friday, Aug. 19. Running time: 1:26. MPAA rating: PG-13 (some intense sequences of violence and language).

      Lisa Reisert - Rachel McAdams

      Jackson Rippner - Cillian Murphy

      Dad - Brian Cox

      Charles Keefe - Jack Scalia

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