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Film review: 'Flightplan' falls apart in midair

FLIGHTPLAN — * 1/2 — Jodie Foster, Peter Sarsgaard, Sean Bean; rated PG-13 (violence, profanity, brief drugs, vulgarity, racial epithets); see Page W2 for theaters.

"Flightplan" is the second movie within a month to try to exploit the prevalent fear — irrational or not — of air travel. And like "Red Eye," this ludicrous suspense-thriller moves at a brisk clip. However, this time around it's not brisk enough to cover up the holes in the plotting.

"Flightplan" completely falls apart in the final third, as the film jettisons reason and logic like spare parts hurled from a rapidly plummeting aircraft. But it might not seem quite so awful, even reprehensible, if it didn't waste a pretty good cast, or if it didn't trot out that ultimate poor-taste cliche, a child in peril.

Jodie Foster stars as Kyle Pratt, a recently widowed propulsion engineer who, along with her young daughter Julia (Marlene Lawston), is returning to the United States to bury her husband. However, during the long Atlantic flight, Kyle falls asleep for a few hours and when she awakens, Julia is missing. And Kyle panics when she isn't able to find the girl.

What's worse, no one aboard the flight seems to believe her, though the pilot (Sean Bean) and an air marshal (Peter Sarsgaard) do organize searches throughout the craft to mollify the increasingly frantic woman. And as those around her question whether the girl was actually onboard, Kyle starts to wonder if she's really going crazy or if there's some sort of conspiracy.

The plotting (courtesy of screenwriters Peter A. Dowling and Billy Ray) is so incredibly contrived and convenient that it's almost laughable, particularly the resolution. Stress the word "almost," because this cast definitely deserves better.

Foster has already played this type of role, and "Flightplan" even has an apparently inadvertent homage of sorts to "Panic Room." Even earnest turns by Sarsgaard and Bean can't salvage the film. And while newcomer Lawston is a natural, Erika Christensen can't help but look bored in a go-nowhere role as a flight attendant.

"Flightplan" is rated PG-13 for violence (violence against women and some explosive mayhem), scattered use of strong profanity, some brief drug content (use and references to tranquilizer use), a brief, vulgar gag about bodily functions, and use of some racial slurs. Running time: 93 minutes.