As Wes Craven films go, this isn't his best -- those go back to his early The Hills Have Eyes and A Nightmare on Elm Street days, and the more recent Scream. But it's far from his worst -- did anyone manage to sit through Cursed earlier this year?

And it's better than his kind of average films -- The Serpent and the Rainbow and The People Under the Stairs fall in there. Actually, Red Eye is one of those departures from formula that Craven likes to take from time to time. Swamp Thing was a goofy comedy, and Music of the Heart, while rather flat and dull, was his first attempt at straight drama. With this one, he tries his first non-horror thriller, and while some of it plays out in routine manner, much of it -- due to first-time scripter Carl Ellsworth's inventive writing -- will give viewers clenched fists and keep them in nervous laughter.

The film kicks off at an incredibly fast clip, accompanied by quick editing, with some people obviously up to no good doing things that are murky but clearly devious. And it introduces us to the fast-paced world of Lisa Reisert (Rachel McAdams, seen most recently in The Notebook and The Wedding Crashers), who keeps things running at a snazzy Miami hotel, and is just getting ready to go back there via a late-night flight from Texas. Things may be a little hectic at the hotel, but she can always be found to straighten them out, even if she's on a phone a thousand miles away.

We're shown that she's a woman who works well under pressure. Well, maybe until the delayed plane finally takes off in bad weather, and she, suffering from, fear of flying, is holding on tight.

But that's the least of her problems. That nice young fellow whom she met earlier at the airport, and had a drink with -- and is now coincidentally sitting in the seat next to her on the plane -- is, well, not as charming as he originally appeared. In fact, those bright blue eyes of his are kind of menacing. When he tells her what he does for a living -- and that if she doesn't do as he says and help him -- her father will die, and she'll have to bury him in a closed casket. Now that is menacing.

As the villainous (and ridiculously named) Jack Rippner, Cillian Murphy, the Irish actor who was first noticed in 28 Days Later and recently played Dr. Jonathan Crane in Batman Begins, portrays a character with over-the-top calmness. He expertly shifts back and forth from smiling and friendly to downright frightening, a trick he practiced in the Batman film and has perfected here.

McAdams, too, is good in her part, playing the character cool and collected and in charge of every situation when things are normal, knowing exactly how to quiver her lower lip to the right effect when it's all out of control.

Those going to see this film and expecting to share the claustrophobia of being trapped on a troubled plane flight might be a little disappointed. Everyone else will be happy that the action isn't confined to the plane. There are also cutaways to dad (Brian Cox, slimmed down and with an unnamable accent) and to the hotel. Even on the plane, the cameras roam around constantly, dropping little clues about what's going to happen later. And strangely, for a film named after a specific flight, the plane lands about 45 minutes in, and the action moves elsewhere.

And that's pretty much when the film gets ramped up, where it -- pardon the expression -- takes off, where its energy returns to that of the opening frames.

At the same time, it starts dipping into a few standard thriller cliches, such as, everyone's current favorite, a low battery on a cell phone. But it never delves too deep into that abyss. The writing stays pretty fresh, the actors (including a strong bevy of backgrounders) all stay true to their parts. A great twist in the plot gives new meaning to the term "losing your voice." And the film features one of the best head butts seen in a long time.

The last few minutes, while seeming to be headed toward yet another movie clich & eacute;, instead offer some unexpected change-ups. The ending itself is a little disappointing, but it comes quickly -- the film runs only 85 minutes, with credits -- and soon after, you'll be chuckling at the parts that made you jump.

Red Eye, Rated: PG-13; Directed by Wes Craven; starring Rachel McAdams, Cillian Murphy, Brian Cox.

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