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Movie Review: Red Eye

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Red Eye is a Hollywood Twin. That’s my term for those high-concept films that Hollywood studios always churn out in pairs each year (often, even each season). Two films that have a similar premise, or ‘concept’, but substantially different ‘development’ in terms of casting, mounting, screenplay, etc. For example, Armageddon and Deep Impact. Mission to Mars and Red Planet. Volcano and Dante’s Peak.

You could probably go back about, oh, fifty years and find a whole series of Hollywood Twins; it might even be interesting to list and review them all, and then compare which twin is the real one, and which is the toni! But it’s only the past decade or so, I gather, that Hollywood studios have hit upon a system for these Twin thingies. It goes something like this. Invariably, once someone in Tinsel Town gets a terrific movie concept, there’s a mad rush to get it into production asap. And inevitably, someone at a rival studio just happens to hear about the concept and tells his or her boss, ‘that’s a film we should do’.

But instead of butting heads and battling at the box office the following summer, the studios have apparently formed a loose, unwritten, protocol for dealing with such Twins. I don’t know if they actually sit down and talk about these things or if they’ve just evolved this system to keep the competition from getting violently out-of-hand. Whatever it’s origins, this ‘Twins’ protocal seems to include the following tenets:

1. Not more than two such films will be released in any one year;
2. While the concepts for both films may be exactly the same–a volcano erupts in a populated urban area, endangering thousands of lives, a meteor is on a collision course with Earth, Earth finally gets a manned mission to Mars–the script developed from those concepts will be substantially different;
3. The casting, promotion and ‘packaging’ of the film will be different enough to enable audiences to instantly distinguish between them in the media as well as at theatres.

Coming to Red Eye. It’s the Hollywood Twin for this season. It’s ‘toni’ being the Jodie Foster starrer Flightplan. And with both films releasing closely on one another’s heels, it’s tempting to just club both together and compare them.

Which I’m not going to do. You can do it yourself. Watch both films, back to back, if you like, and see which one developed the concept more powerfully, cast it better, directed it more effectively, the whole nine yards. I’m content with just reviewing Red Eye here and now. Because Red Eye is not just a Twin, it’s also the latest entry in the long-running career of the modern maestro of horror cinema, Wes Craven, and I want to talk about him as well. And of course, Rachel McAdams, because how can I talk about any movie this season without talking about Rachel McAdams!

First of all, in my opinion at least, Red Eye is a big disappointment…to a Wes Craven fan. That qualification is important because, frankly, this isn’t a bad moviecoaster at all; heck, it’s actually a pretty good one to while away an hour and a half, and a fairly clean, family-friendly experience all in all. But I am a Craven fan, and so, to me, as a Craven film, it’s disappointing. I guess that’s because, when you’re watching a big hitter, and he winds up and builds up, and then hits it–but it doesn’t go halfway across the field, let alone out of the ballpark–then you’re apt to be a mite disappointed.

Craven, of course, in case you’re not a horror film freak, began his career with the controversial and somewhat unpleasant slasher flick The Last House on the Left. But it’s as the maker of the Nightmare on Elm Street films that he really made his name. More recently, he managed that rarest of rabbit-pulls: he developed and helmed a second mega-hit series of films, the Scream trilogy. In between, he found time to direct several lesser films with varying degrees of success, from the interesting Shocker to the disappointing recent werewolf film , and a few smaller films, including a couple of quiet thrillers for Hallmark that most people don’t know about.

It’s in the last category that Red Eye belongs. This is a film that doesn’t promise a big bang and doesn’t deliver one. Probably the best thing about it is its self-set limits and the way it strives mightily to get the most muscle out of that small body. And no, guys, I’m not talking about Ms. McAdams! I’m talking about the attempt to set most of the film on a late-night (red eye) flight from Texas to Miami, thereby containing the action and tension in a limited physical space and the cast to a fixed ensemble of minor characters supporting the two primaries.

It’s an interesting approach and it’s used very effectively. It works from the first minute thanks to Wes Craven’s legendary eye for casting likable, feisty, strong, independent, butt-kicking heroines. He made a star out of Neve Campbell with the Scream trilogy, and here, he makes a star out of newcomer McAdams with her debut. And McAdams certainly deserve the launch: she’s a very attractive young lady with a commanding screen presence, just enough appeal to be sexy but not overwhelmingly so, a bit of girl-next-door with woman-in-charge combined together, smart, intelligent, very feminine and yet very power-charged. Here’s a Hollywood heroine who could do almost any role or film, from a sultry seductress to an action-figure saver of the day thriller, to a serious girls-in-the-nuthouse film, or…well, you name it, I think she could pull it off. McAdams is real talent, polished, buffed, and ready to serve. She’s going to be a woman to watch in the next few Hollywood years.

Coming back to the film. Red Eye is about a young Miami hotel manager on her way back from her grandmother’s funeral. She’s attracted to a young man on the same flight, whom she hits on after much forethought–it’s been a while since she’s ridden the relationship cycle, for reasons that will become clear in the course of the film–and who later turns out to be a ‘bad guy’ who was only using her to get his assignment done. Said assignment involves an intended strike against the head of homeland security–I wonder if that was an intentional movie in-joke, since airplane passengers in the US these days would probably be the most likely candidates for a strike against the head of homeland security!–and his family at the Miami manager’s resort hotel.

What follows is the struggle between her and her assailant, and his attempts to force her to do as he (and his anonymous, never-seen) employers desire, and her own battle to resist becoming the pawn of terrorists and assassins and becoming party to the murder of an innocent family. (That last is an important touch and a telling one–I guess the producers didn’t think that just assassinating the head of homeland security would generate enough sympathy!) And, of course, she has to do this all while trapped on that ‘red eye’ flight with this creep, with her father (back in Miami) being watched by a hitman who will knife him if she doesn’t do exactly as she’s told.

There’s an interesting cast of supporting characters, well cast and well played. I won’t list them all, or go into any more plot details. Because really, Red Eye is about this young woman’s struggle, not only with the pressure to do what she’s being told to do by this dangerous creep (played with marvelous menace by Cillian Murphy, who played Scarecrow in Batman Returns with equally terrorizing effectiveness) but also with her own issues, which relate to a certain incident a few years ago that have left her psychologically crippled–until now. How she rises above these odds, obeys her tormentor in order to prevent her father being killed, then struggles to undo what she’s done as well as escape this creep, and save her father is what the second half of the film is about.

And that’s where, in my opinion, this film really becomes paisa vasool as we say in India. (Literally translated: “money’s worth”.) Because once that plane gets on the ground, the moviecoaster takes off. I especially love the scene in the Miami house where she’s stalking as well as being stalked by the bad guy, and there’s a moment which is pure Wes Craven, it could be out of a Scream movie or a Nightmare movie, but it’s yet so original and freshly done. The way Craven sets up simple production items, like a mirror, a shower curtain, doorways, a TV set, a phone, using reflections, shadows, and camera angles to create nail-biting suspense over nothing but a man and a woman trying to kill each other, is vintage Craven and great suspense moviemaking. To me at least, that one scene is worth the price of the entire film. That, and the casting of Rachel McAdams.

I enjoyed Red Eye as a clean, tense, family-friendly popcorn moviecoaster. As a Wes Craven fan, I wanted more, much more. But maybe that was my mistake; maybe I should have seen it as a Rachel McAdams fan. She sure as hell walks away with this entire movie, and the hearts of audiences as far away as Mumbai, India. See if for her alone, and you won’t be disappointed even the slightest bit.

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