Of course, we've seen this before. And not necessarily in Panic Room (2002), although the parallels between David Fincher's claustrophobic thriller and Flightplan (2005) are about as plain as an oxygen mask dangling in front of your nose. Then, as now, Jodie Foster digs into her mature, post-Silence of the Lambs persona, effectively blending both the lone-voice-of-reason tension of Contact with Panic Room's not-without-my-daughter histrionics. Such makes Foster sound more like a movie star than an actress, but her A-list qualities helped Flightplan bank $82 million domestically on the back end of a weak summer season. It's not a challenging movie by any stretch. Heck, it's not even new. Alfred Hitchcock used essentially the same setup in his 1937 gem The Lady Vanishes. And if you're going to steal, you might as well steal from the best. Foster stars in Flightplan as Kyle Pratt, a propulsion engineer for Elgin Air, developers of the ultra-high-tech Aalto E-474 airliner. We meet Kyle and her six-year-old daughter Julia (Marlene Lawston) as they prepare to fly from Germany to New York on an E-474 with some unpleasant cargo: a coffin bearing Kyle's husband, who recently died (or possibly killed himself) after falling from a building. Kyle still hasn't coped with her husband's death, and this particular flight doesn't help matters only a few hours after departure, she wakes up to discover that Julia isn't in her seat. A cursory walk up and the down the aisles turns up nothing, after which Kyle presses the flight crew to launch an all-out search for her child, convinced that she's been abducted by a predator, or worse, that she's a pawn in a larger game, since Kyle is an expert on E-474 aircraft. She wins some sympathy from the senior pilot, Capt. Rich (Sean Bean), but fails to convince a no-nonsense air marshal (Peter Sarsgaard), who thinks the near-hysterical woman is either over-medicated or insane especially after Julia's name isn't found on the manifest and no other passengers saw her on board.
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If Jodie Foster's marquee turn in Flightplan appears carefully calculated, it seems less so when we note she was the second choice for both this project and Panic Room the latter because Nicole Kidman was forced to bow out due to a bad knee, here after Sean Penn reportedly turned down the role of Kyle. ("Six Degrees" buffs will note that Foster originally was to star in David Fincher's The Game, but the role went to Penn, who later co-starred with Kidman in The Interpreter, &tc.) Credit then serendipity for two of Foster's biggest hits post-Lambs, solidifying her as the most fiercely maternal screen presence since Linda Hamilton in Terminator 2. As with Panic Room, it's hard to envision Flightplan without her. The film itself, directed by relative newcomer Robert Schwentke, is a serviceable cineplex diversion, obviously supported by good word-of-mouth rather than critical notices. Many reviewers savaged it, readily pointing out that the conspiracy responsible for Julia's disappearance is about as plausible as the E-474 hurtling itself into orbit. Nonetheless, one has to take the genre into account this is, after all, a movie about an aeronautical engineer who manages to outwit the bad guys thanks to her intimate knowledge of both aircraft electronics and crawlspace. If audiences bought it, it's mostly because an anguished Jodie Foster was selling it, and the slick production isn't hurt by the solid supporting cast and the Hitchcockian confines of a single-set thriller, where menace seems to lurk around every corner. It's not Rear Window or Lifeboat, and the last 30 minutes devolve into the cat-and-mouse staple of summer films, including the villain who talks way too much. But with the seat back and a drink or two, there are worse ways to pass the time. Buena Vista's DVD release of Flightplan features a solid anamorphic transfer (2.35:1) with theater-quality DTS 5.1 (English) and Dolby Digital 5.1 (English, French, Spanish) audio. Supplements include a commentary by director Robert Schwentke, as well as the five-part documentary "The In-Flight Movie: The Making of Flightplan" (38 min.) and "Cabin Pressure: Designing the Aalto E-474" (10 min.), which are standard behind-the-scenes presentations although the filmmakers' refusal to even mention Hitchcock's The Lady Vanishes as one of the script's sources can only be described as churlish. Previews for other Disney/Buena Vista titles, keep-case.