Red Eye screenwriter Carl Ellsworth’s admission that he wrote the movie with inspiration from Joel Schumacher’s notoriously hokey Phone Booth (2003) speaks volumes about the tedious straight-line narrative Ellsworth gives to horror master Wes Craven (The Hills Have Eyes) to direct. Craven fails to elevate the lackluster script and does surprisingly little to add scares where the suspense lags for sequences at a time. Up-and-coming actor Cillian Murphy falls flat in his successive second-rate outing after a lightweight performance in Batman Begins.
If you’ve seen its theatrical trailer then you’ve seen Red Eye. Lisa Reisert (Rachel McAdams—The Notebook) is an annoying “total-quality-management” type of hotel manager on an overnight flight from Dallas to Miami where her luxury hotel awaits. Lisa’s fear of flying is overshadowed by the immediate threat to her father’s (Brian Cox—The Bourne Supremacy) life posed by her crafty seatmate Jackson Rippner (Cillian Murphy).
Jackson goes to great pains to keep in touch with an associate staking out Lisa’s dad as a hostage-in-waiting to force Lisa to call her hotel and have them switch a room reserved for Charles Keefe (Jack Scalia) the “Deputy Secretary of Homeland Security.” The audience is supposed to buy that these are professional killers who want to bump off a key politician by kidnapping the relative of a hotel exec in order to switch their target’s heavily guarded room so they can fire a missile from their patrolling fishing boat. The skewed logic of this crucial narrative conceit gets stretched so thin that the film’s explosive climax raises audience guffaws rather than cheers.
The utter silliness of Murphy’s character marks him as more clown than villain and the potential joy of seeing him overpowered is diminished by his brain-challenged condition that generates pearls of bum dialogue in nearly every scene. The subplots, involving Lisa’s uncharacterized father Joe and a blank Miami-visiting politician, are neglected such that they’re barely sustained as even simple plot devices. The ordinarily reliable Brian Cox is reduced to literally phoning in his performance (he’s on the phone for half of the movie).
But Rachel McAdams takes the brunt of the shame for characterizing a greasy people-pleasing hotel manager. As one of the most loathed archetypes of the business world “managers” occupy a dusty home among character types that are generally prohibited from occupying the elite title of protagonist.
While the audience is left to ponder a world with one less manager in it, the movie flaunts its embarrassing ruse of attempting to generate suspense on board an airplane without ever committing to the freak-out experience it implies. The in-air travel time that we expect to be filled with nervy tension and acts of desperation turns out to be nothing more than a sequence of smalltime oneupsmanship between a couple of people who are more fit to play checkers than chess.
When Lisa finally gets around to giving her attacker his comeuppance, she uses a child’s ballpoint pen as if it were a dagger. The weapon serves as an appropriately childish relic of the film’s B-movie aspirations and allows Jackson Rippner the ability to give chase up until the bitter end.
Red Eye is a huge disappointment because Wes Craven is a highly skilled and original director who took a paycheck to direct a bland Hollywood movie. We’ve come to expect a lion’s share of “Boo!” surprises from the director of the Scream franchise but Wes Craven seems to be either too lazy or just not interested in producing shocker scenes. If you’re a fan of Wes Craven, don’t see Red Eye. MTW