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Thursday, Aug. 18, 2005 06:51 am

Thrill ride of the season

Red Eye shows Wes Craven can handle suspense flick without horror

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Red Eye

Taut, suspenseful and smart, Wes Craven’s Red Eyeis the thrill ride of the summer, an old-fashioned nail-biter that signals a new direction for the veteran filmmaker as he ventures into Hitchcock territory to pull off his most accomplished and satisfying movie. Craven and screenwriter Carl Ellsworth tap into many our most basic fears — enclosed spaces, strangers, flying, and home invasion — and the result is a wholly satisfying, cathartic entertainment.

If anything, Red Eye confirms that Rachel McAdams is a bona fide movie star and one of the most talented of the many young actresses to emerge on the scene in the last five years. Coming off the success of Mean Girls, The Notebook, and Wedding Crashers, McAdams gives a strong performance as Lisa, an assertive, capable, young woman who never met a problem she couldn’t solve. The manager of a posh resort in Florida, she’s returning from Dallas on the red-eye to Miami. When her flight’s delayed, she shares a drink with fellow passenger Jackson Rippner (Cillian Murphy). They part ways at the airport only to find they’re seated next to each other on the flight.

Lisa dismisses this as a coincidence, but once they are buckled in and the plane takes off, she learns she’s a pawn in an elaborate terrorist plot. Her father (Brian Cox) will be killed, Rippner says, unless she calls the resort where she works and switches the room where the deputy Secretary of Homeland Defense and his family plan to stay. This rather simple premise mushrooms into a classic game of cat-and-mouse in which Craven utilizes every element in his bag of tricks to increase the suspense.

Although it could have used a more sympathetic target (an arrogant member of the Bush administration?), the film is smart when it counts. There isn’t a hole to be found in the film’s conspiracy plot and all of the intricate elements at play during its exhilarating climax, the point at which most thrillers fall apart, hold water. Red Eye is one of the most satisfying films of the summer.

Also in theaters this week. . .

The 40-Year-Old Virgin [R] Nerdy electronic store employee Andy Stitzer is a virgin, a 40-year-old virgin. When his friends find out, they try to rectify matters, but their quest hits a road bump when Stitzer falls in love. ShowPlace East, ShowPlace West

Supercross [PG-13] After the death of their father, two motocross biking brothers are determined to win the Las Vegas Motocross Championships. Parkway Pointe

Valiant [G] A small-fry pigeon named Valiant works hard and become a force to be reckoned with in Great Britain’s Royal Air Force Homing Pigeons Service during World War II. Parkway Pointe

The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill [G] A documentary about a flock of parrots befriended by a street musician in San Francisco. More on page 17. Parkway Pointe

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