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With M. Night Shyamalan still in hiding after The Village, you’d think big-budget suspense movies would have given up on the Big Surprise for a while. But no, here it is again in Flightplan—and you won’t buy it for a minute. Fortunately, even as you’re scoffing at this apparently requisite revelation, the film works itself back into a frenzy and returns to being fun, fun, fun. And by “fun,” of course, I mean edge-of-your-seat-tense. It’s Jodie Foster’s own little Red Eye as she plays Kyle Pratt, a recent widow who’s flying to New York from Berlin, where she works in aeronautics. Traveling with her is her 6-year-old daughter, Julia (Marlene Lawston), the kind of movie moppet who draws a heart on the cold airplane window when she sees her dad’s casket getting loaded into the cargo bay. After takeoff, Kyle and Julia spread out in some empty rows and fall asleep; when Kyle wakes up, Julia’s gone. Because Mommy knows her planes, she’d already pointed out to Julia that the one they’re flying is the biggest ever, which makes for a frantic and wide-ranging search that the flight crew soon gets in on—until they tell Kyle that there’s no record of Julia’s being on the plane, and, by the way, you’re nuts, lady. Foster is in pretty much every scene, and from the first shot of Kyle looking stricken, then seeing her husband in an obvious fantasy sequence, her grim-faced performance makes it clear that this is one mom on the edge. But like Rachel McAdams’ heroine in Red Eye, Kyle is as observant and quick-thinking as she is unrelenting, ensuring that she remains sympathetic even after everyone else on the plane starts wishing she’d shut the hell up. German director Robert Schwentke lends a Das Boot– ish claustrophobia to his American feature debut, and new scripter Peter A. Dowling and Shattered Glass writer Billy Ray infuse the story with plenty of post-9/11 paranoia while keeping the fever-pitch dialogue to a minimum. Add in supporting roles efficiently handled by Peter Sarsgaard and Sean Bean, and you’ve got yourself a nice fall popcorn-hoister. The Big Surprise? In this case, it’s that the story doesn’t need one at all.

—Tricia Olszewski