How badly does Flightplan stink? I’ve been sitting here coming up with lists of stinky cheeses and which athletes probably had the stinkiest feet, and I am still not finding anything comparable to the great stench that Flightplan will be laying in theaters starting this weekend.

Interestingly it’s not the worst movie of the year, not by a long shot. And I’m not just saying that because Alone in the Dark was released in this calendar year. What makes Flightplan so notable in it’s general shittiness is the fact that it combines a number of really talented people into one film that squanders them completely and remorselessly.

The main problem here is the script, and I don’t say that lightly. I recently had a very interesting conversation with a screenwriter who said that if a review was going to point out that a script is bad, the reviewer best have read the script, as actors and directors will often make massive changes on set, meaning that sometimes you just can’t blame the poor guy who wrote the original thing. I respect that, and it’s something I’ve come to understand the more I meet people who have written scripts that have been savaged by the system. In the case of Flightplan, though, the basic plot mechanics are so awesomely retarded that I feel comfortable singling out Billy Ray’s script, since it provided, at the very least, the plot elements that make this film so bad.

Billy Ray wrote and directed the excellent film Shattered Glass, which was smart and subtle, so I know that the crap in Flightplan is below him. The story, as you know, has a woman getting on a very big plane with her daughter, who then disappears. In fact, the people on the plane say that they don’t ever even remember a daughter being on board – and the passenger manifest doesn’t list a daughter at all! I won’t tell you what the “twist” is here, but I will tell you that it’s completely boneheaded. The events needed to create this “twist,” all of which are revealed Scooby Doo style towards the end of the film, are so complicated that you can’t help but wonder why the hell anyone would go through that much trouble for just about anything. To say that the “twist” is implausible certainly downplays the sheer inanity of it.

Of course even with a crummy story, Flightplan could have been good. It has two fine actors in the leads, and some decent actors supporting. Peter Sarsgaard, who I think is one of the best actors working today, is completely wasted as an air marshall who is skeptical of Jodie Foster’s claims that her daughter was snatched. But Foster herself isn’t wasted, at least not by the film. She’s wasted by her own film choices. I can understand Sarsgaard taking a role like this for the money so that he can do films like this fall’s The Dying Gaul, but why would Foster want to take a role that’s so reminiscent of her last film, 2002’s Panic Room? And even beyond that, why would she be so bad?

Foster spends the film testing the very limits of her shrillness. Her daughter is missing, and that is a terrible thing, but there’s a certain point where she’s causing so much havoc on this plane and being so frantic about it that you’re really hoping someone takes her down but good. Maybe it’s just because I hate flying, but no one needs to have a hysterical mother running up and down the aisles of their trans-Atlantic flight. I hate when the drink carts come through and bump my elbows.

Director Robert Schwentke shows that he has some visual flair. The majority of the film takes place inside an airplane (even if it is, for almost no reason, the biggest airplane ever), and it takes a skilled director to keep things moving and visually interesting in such a static location. For the most part he succeeds, but as the film degenerates into Die Hard II With A Girl, nothing can stop the rising urge you have to get the hell out of your seat and leave the theater. At least not until the shitty “twist” kicks in and you suddenly realize that even as awful as the film has been, it’s only getting worse. Plus all the garbage you sat through was a sham.

It’s really tempting for me to spoil this film to hell, and a truly good review of this would pick the film’s logical loopholes apart from the beginning – almost the first frame, in fact. Maybe I’ll come back for the DVD review so I can really unload on this thing.

Flightplan is the kind of movie that encapsulates what’s wrong with Hollywood. It’s got plenty of talented people working on it, but it seems like they all turned a blind eye to the fact that they were creating something truly terrible. The sight of these people, of Billy Ray and Jodie Foster and Peter Sarsgaard and even Sean Bean, lining up for a paycheck like this is just a little bit disheartening.

4 out of 10