by Rob Gonsalves
It isn't enough to enjoy playing a psychopath; you must also convey some wit, or some pathos, or at least some shading.In Wes Craven's hollowly efficient Red Eye, Cillian Murphy, who seems to be grooming himself as the movies' next Creepy Man after Batman Begins, plays a sort of assassination go-between. This sociopath, who goes by the name Jackson Rippner (oh, please -- I guess we should be thankful his middle initial isn't D), isn't really a hands-on hit man; he facilitates murders, gets everything neatly set up for the real assassins. A movie about such a character might be intriguing -- haven't you ever wondered who does all the research for hired killers? Do they have staff reference librarians?
"Empty thrills from a director who should know better."
Murphy, however, plays Rippner mostly as a stone-cold desperate psycho (which is also mostly how he's written). Even in his early scenes, when he insinuates himself into the trust of hotel employee Lisa Reisert (Rachel McAdams), he betrays nothing human, nothing that would suggest an actual person doing this disagreeable job. And in a thriller in which we spend most of our time with these two people, that hurts. After Rippner and Lisa are seated together on a late flight according to his plan, he drops his amiable act fast and lays down the rules: Lisa must move the head of Homeland Security from one hotel room to another, or else Rippner will make a call to a hit man loitering outside the house of Lisa's dad (Brian Cox).
It's an extremely movie-ish premise -- we have to believe that only Lisa has the clout to get that room re-assigned, and that the head of Homeland Security would even remember her (part of the plan is contingent on Lisa's people skills). Hitchcock, of course, got lots of mileage out of just such absurd plots. But Wes Craven, whatever other strengths he has, isn't Hitchcock. His talent lies in inspired nastiness and ruthlessness, but there's only so far he can push the envelope in a PG-13 thriller, and Jackson Rippner is not, to put it kindly, one of the more memorable icons of fear from the man who gave us Freddy Krueger, Ghostface, and the anarchic brutes of Last House on the Left and The Hills Have Eyes.
Red Eye gets in and out fast -- it's only 85 minutes long -- but at times it seems not even movie-ish, but TV-movie-ish. (Craven has done his share of work for the tube, as has his screenwriter here, Carl Ellsworth, who penned, among other things, the first Halloween episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer -- not one of the show's highlights, as I recall.) The film becomes a routine cat-and-mouse game, with the ice-blooded Rippner putting increasing pressure on the flawless Lisa. To up the ante -- so that the audience won't shrug and say "Who cares all that much if the Homeland Security guy dies?" -- the politician's family is also put in jeopardy, and Rachel McAdams does make us believe that Lisa wouldn't be able to live with herself if she colluded, however unwillingly and under duress, in multiple murder. Of course, Craven also keeps cutting back to Lisa's dad at home, mostly dozing in front of the TV. The movie is generally too humorless to find any wit in the contrast between Lisa's plight and her dad's heavy-lidded obliviousness to it. Poor Brian Cox, left with little to do except snore.
One actor comes through: Jayma Mays gives an amusingly insecure performance as a rookie at Lisa's hotel, who in Lisa's absence finds herself dealing with rude customers, visiting politicians, and a wayward missile. Ah, yes. The climax involves both a rocket launcher and a vengeful Rippner, sucking in gurgly air from a wound in his throat (Craven, amazingly, fails to make this detail creepy) and wielding a big knife. It's the kind of climax in which we realize, with something of a contemptuous chuckle, why we were earlier shown a photo of Lisa on her school curling team -- so that she could find the curling stick in her old bedroom and whack Rippner with it.Obviously unintentionally, 'Red Eye' has been fortuitously cast: The Scarecrow from 'Batman Begin's versus the ingenue from last month's surprise hit 'Wedding Crashers.' I wondered how much more fun the film might've been if it had been Brian Cox in Murphy's role and Jayma Mays in McAdams' role. Or, hell, McAdams as the cold-blooded killer and Murphy as the white-knuckled hotel clerk. At least McAdams would've looked more fetching in the throat-wound-concealing purple scarf than Murphy does.
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originally posted: 01/28/07 04:37:50