Jodie Foster has never played well with others. Even in her Oscar-winning films - "Silence of the Lambs" and "The Accused" - she's thrived only when she's been the lone and much-besieged wolf. Her chemistry with Matthew McConaughey in "Contact" (1997) was nonexistent. "Sommersby" (1993) found her striking futilely for sparks with Richard Gere. And in "Maverick" (1994), she and Mel Gibson seemed to be from different gun-toting planets. Which may explain why the enormously talented actress would choose to make one of her increasingly rare appearances in something like "Flightplan."
It does make sense: As in her last big American film, "Panic Room" (which dates back to 2002), she gets to play a woman who 1) suddenly finds herself without a husband 2) has to face the entire, immediate, perilous world on her own, and 3) is forced to fiercely protect her child. She eventually will strip down to a T-shirt and stretch pants, at which point you know she means business.
As Kyle Pratt - monosyllabic names being hard, fast, and to-the-point - Foster is convincing enough as a newly widowed mother-in-shock who awakens to find her daughter, Julia (Marlene Lawston), missing from her plane seat. No one is quite sure she isn't bonkers, and this includes the audience. The irony is, the effectiveness of the filmmaking undermines the film: We're so off-balance about whether or not Kyle has imagined boarding with her daughter - a child no one else on the plane can remember seeing - that we never work up any sympathy for a character who may simply be a delusional nuisance. Given that her fellow passengers are crude boors and the flight crew officious, we detest them, too.
Never mind that the script by Billy Ray and Peter A. Dowling contains plot holes the size of an Airbus. Although the trailer for the film says that Kyle designed the plane they're on, the movie itself is much vaguer; that she works in the aerospace industry is all she admits. But how else would she know every nook and cranny on the plane? Yet, if she designed the plane, why does she have to sit in coach? There should be some perks in life.
Peter Sarsgaard is solid as Carson, the air marshal who has to deal with the hysterical mother without the other passengers lunging for the parachutes. Sean Bean is very good as the ship's captain and everyone else is pretty much window dressing for Foster, who runs, jumps, and exercises her righteously indignant wrath when anyone suggests she may be hallucinating, or post-traumatic, or just grief-stricken.
It's all a bit tiresome, and no way to treat one of America's great actresses, even one who likes to go it so desperately alone. Grade: C+
• Rated PG-13 for violence and some intense plot material.