It's the plan that's the problem.
Y'know, Flightplan almost pulls it off. The phrase 'Hitchcockian' is often banded about in association with this, although only by studio PR people. There are, however, a few moments when this Robert Schwentke helmed thriller (who you may remember from Teutonic Seven derivative Tattoo) almost achieves this. These brief, shining moments of sunlight are quickly covered by vast, dark clouds of silliness that pretty much destroy the shock absorbers of the suspension of disbelief.
Tragedy visits Kyle (Jodie Foster) and her daughter Julia (Marlene Lawston), stopping by for a chat, chocolate digestives and to kill her husband. This turns what should have been a happy occasion, the inaugural flight of a new superjumbo Kyle was responsible for designing (which, incidentally, is either a TARDIS or the same size as Norway) into a more sombre affair as they accompany the body back to America. More slings and arrows, as after briefly nodding off she awakens to find an empty seat beside her where Julia ought to be.
Organising a proper search proves difficult, especially as Julia's name does not appear on any passenger manifest and no-one can seem to remember seeing the little tyke on board. Eventually Kyle and friendly Air Marshal Carson (Peter Sarsgaard) convince Captain Rich (Sean Bean) and his flight crew to have a butchers, but draw a blank. While Kyle insists they search the cargo holds, the Cap'n receives news from back home that Julia actually died along with her father. With everyone believing she's been driven over the edge by grief, including for a brief moment herself, she rallies to seek out her daughter by going bandit, Reynolds-style. Causing all sorts of havoc, Carson is tasked with stopping her before she does something fatal to the airplane. Of course, there's still questions to be answered and it wouldn't be a thriller if there weren't a sinister plan of great sinistertude.
Ah, there's the rub. As more and more devious details of the plot Kyle has unwittingly found herself embroiled in you can feel the slender thread from which your forgiveness of the liberties it takes with rationality growing ever thinner until it snaps like a brittle twig. I don't think it spoils anything to reveal that it winds up revolving around money, as everything in this world does, but each additional point of the plan reveals just how unwieldily elaborate it is to the point where it tips over that mental hill where you start to think, "Nah. Couldn't happen" and stop caring about it.
Which is a pity, because there's very little wrong with it aside from that. Foster essentially gives a repeat performance from Panic Room, which is no bad thing in my book, Sarsgaard does everything required of him well enough and Sean Bean's involvement is mercifully limited. Even lil' Marlene Lawston doesn't prove too irritating, although her screentime is obviously limited by plot constraints. Note that 'not too irritating' is about as good as we ever hope from for child actors, and we always count ourselves lucky if we get through a film without Dakota Fanning appearing to wordmurder us.
A lot depends on how lenient you're prepared to be with Flightplan. After all, no matter how silly the plot becomes it's still a million times more plausible than any horror film and you wouldn't start slating them because Demons aren't realistic, or something similar. But Flightplan isn't a horror film, and it's supposed to be grounded in realism. The devilish scheme in this film isn't realistic, in fact it doesn't even know what real is.
You may well be more forgiving of its sins, or rather sin as I struggle to find much apart from the above that's wrong with it, and you may well be somewhat more gripped by the finale than I was. That said, despite the hard-bitten, curmudgeonly, cynical nature I often project in a vain attempt to be 'street', I'm normally a fairly easy-going, easily pleased chap as far as films go and I'd completely lost interest in this by the time it kicks into the home straight. The more easily discouraged will have good reason to walk out on this once the salient details are revealed and I'm certain everyone will agree it was somewhat silly upon sober reflection.
Nah, there's nothing wrong with Flightplan that a thorough grounding in reality wouldn't fix. As it stands it's not flawed enough to hate, or silly enough to be offensive. There's a faint sense of disappointment in an opportunity wasted, but that's perhaps the strongest emotion it can hope to evoke. A pity then, but somehow fairly typical of this year's cinematic output. The Year of Mediocrity™ rolls on undaunted.
Were I in the business of passing quantifiable judgements, I'd award this 3/5 TippyMarks.
Peter Sarsgaard (Carson)
Marlene Lawston (Julia)
Sean Bean (Captain Rich)