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Improbable 'Red Eye' never gets off the ground

Red Eye
Directed by: Wes Craven
Written by: Carl Ellsworth
Starring: Rachel McAdams, Cillian Murphy, Brian Cox
At: Boston Common, Fenway, suburbs
Running time: 85 minutes
Rated: PG-13 (intense sequences of violence, language)
★ 1/2

In Wes Craven's ''Red Eye,"Rachel McAdams, that nice young lady so lusted after in ''The Notebook" and ''Wedding Crashers," plays a nice young lady who is forced to get in touch with the tough cookie she played in ''Mean Girls." It takes a while, and the wait is not really worth it. But that's not her fault. ''Red Eye" is a one-trick action thriller that feels like a poor cousin of an episode of ''24." Call it ''12."

McAdams plays Lisa, an extremely efficient luxury hotel manager who's catching the red-eye flight to Miami, where there is about to be trouble. Because the movie is meant as a work of suspense, we must bide our time until the trouble is revealed. Meanwhile, Lisa works her charms at the check-in, defusing other passengers' crises. Her aplomb and politesse catch the attention of the man behind her, a thin bloke with stubble and a shaggy haircut. He's played by Cillian Murphy, the Irishman who was Scarecrow in ''Batman Begins."

Ominously, in principle at least, his character is called Jackson Rippner, and after some casual flirting with Lisa on the way to the plane and in the cabin, where they happen to be rowmates, we find out why. The deputy secretary of homeland security is staying at Lisa's hotel, and unless she switches Rippner to the room of his choosing, he'll have her father (Brian Cox) killed. (The suite is the preferred target of a rocket launcher the size of a Civil War cannon, perfect for firing through the holes in this tale.)

After doing a lot of crying, Lisa tries her best to furtively warn her fellow passengers that she's sitting next to a nut. Naturally, nothing works. The movie is obligated to get well past the 45-minute mark, although meeting that requirement cuts the plot's credibility into thin, deli slices. What's left is a baloney sandwich, with no surprises. There is the occasional overture to the Alfred Hitchcock combination of suspense and comedy, mostly involving Lisa's fellow passengers.

But, alas, there is no subtext, finesse, or wit in Carl Ellsworth's screenplay, which aspires to be as fun to watch as a paperback potboiler is to read. For that, the movie needs frills, and ''Red Eye" has virtually none. In the last act, Murphy is entertainingly forced to wear an ascot and speak in a rasp, committing what seems like a fey impression of Craven's Freddy Krueger. You'll have to see why for yourself.

Otherwise, I could tell you the entire plot and spoil nothing. It doesn't bend or twist or wink. Once the plane lands the movie becomes a series of foot chases that ends exactly as we've been trained to expect. But not from Craven, who over four decades has built a sterling reputation on cheek, irony, and the grotesque, one that he's had a tough time living up to since he completed his ''Scream" trilogy five years ago. His last movie, a werewolf comedy-thriller called ''Cursed," was half-hearted self-parody.

On film, Craven has already dismantled himself, his ''Nightmare on Elm Street" series, and, in the ''Scream" movies, the teen slasher genre that put him on the map. But his brilliance was costly. At 66, Craven seems to have forgotten that he would still have to work even after he'd murdered his beloved genre so effectively. He should start looking into reincarnation.

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