A juiced-up 'Panic Room'

"Panic Room" takes its title from the latest fashionable twist in urban paranoia, a sealed-off chamber where beleaguered folks can hide from crime or catastrophe.

There's a nicely outfitted one in David Fincher's thriller, complete with secure phone line, video views of the house's other rooms, and the kind of steel-trap doorway that used to provide a shuddery chill in science-fiction films ("Forbidden Planet") and horror movies ("The Raven") but now seems like just another realistic detail.

And, oh yes, there's a safe embedded in the floor, holding a fortune in bonds. That's what the bad guys are after when they break into the oversized townhouse where Jodie Foster and her young daughter have just moved, putting them through a night's worth of familiar suspense-picture routines.

Aiming for a distinctive look, "Panic Room" takes a minimalist approach to the thriller genre, centering almost all the action on five characters in one place during a single three-hour period.

Also present is Fincher's long-standing affection for hyperactive camera movements, juicing up any scene where the acting or dialogue sags.

There are many such scenes, since David Koepp's screenplay isn't nearly surprising or clever enough to sustain a reasonable degree of suspense on its own. Fincher is a resourceful filmmaker, as movies such as "The Game" and "Fight Club" attest. Still, without mind-teasing material he's more a facile technician than a clear-sighted artist.

The cast is well-chosen, especially Forest Whitaker as the most interesting villain and Kristen Stewart as Foster's daughter, who's battling physical illness as well as criminal assault.

Foster is fine, but the story's outcome would seem a tad more uncertain if another actress had the part. How scary are three New York tough guys when you've handled Hannibal Lecter in your time?

• Rated R; contains violence and profanity.

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