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Rated 3 stars
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ReelTalk Movie Reviews
Make Room for Panic
by Betty Jo Tucker

Whenever Jodie Fosterís immense acting talent fails to make a movie interesting for me, I begin to panic. And while listening to other people rave about the merits of the film, my anxiety level skyrockets. After watching Panic Room, thatís exactly what happened. Did I miss something? Why wasnít I intrigued with the character Foster portrayed? Why did I wish Iíd gone to a different film that day?

Calm down, I tell myself. Maybe other viewers didnít notice the preposterous dialogue in so many scenes. "Whatís wrong?" a frightened teenager (Kristen Stewart) asks her mother (Foster) after robbers break into their house. "People --- in the house," whispers Foster (Contact). Clearly, the daughter already knows this! Later, the girl crawls over to her father, a man sheís just seen beaten to a pulp, and asks, "Are you okay?" Puh-leez! By that time, I was wishing for the return of silent movies. (On second thought, reading those absurd lines printed on screen might be just as off-putting.)

Perhaps my standards for a thriller, one of my favorite genres, are too high. Because of Fosterís appearance in the starring role, a screenplay by David Koepp (Snake Eyes), and David Fincherís (Seven, Fight Club) direction, I thought Panic Room would live up to these expectations. With opening credits displayed on New York buildings and haunting music playing in the background, the film starts out right by promising to deliver gobs of stylish suspense. The movieís early cinematography also heightened my anticipation of Hitchcockian thrills to come. Roaming throughout the huge brownstone apartment where this story takes place, the camera discovers all sorts of shadowy places. What terrifying things might happen in a house like this!

And they do, but only during the last third of the movie. Up to that point, I couldnít feel much fear for a mom and her daughter who lock themselves into a highly secure "safe room" hidden in one of their bedrooms. Yes, itís small --- but also equipped with television cameras for surveillance, toilet facilities, a public address system, and a telephone. (Okay, the last item doesnít work and thatís kind of scary, especially for a teenage girl.) Itís not easy to believe in Fosterís character after she finally makes a phone work, calls 911, and then hangs up when asked to "Hold." Guess who she decides to call for help instead? Her rich ex-husband whoís in bed with another woman. Make any sense? Not to me.

Still, Fosterís brilliance shines through in a couple of scenes. After spending an exhausting day moving into her new house, she tries to find a moment of peace by indulging in a leisurely bath. It only takes a few seconds for Foster to project all the despair and sadness this woman feels as a result of her recent divorce and her daughterís diabetes. Another scene, well-filmed in slow motion, shows a frantic mother sneaking out of the "safe room" and trying to recover a cell phone before being discovered by the intruders. The look of panic on Fosterís face not only sent chills through me but also gave me hope the movie would improve.

Panic Room does get much better after Foster leaves that little room. Her efforts to save her daughter and thwart the robbers held my interest for the remainder of the film. I also enjoyed Forest Whitakerís (Battlefield Earth) good-bad guy performance as one of the intruders. But I wanted to know more about his characterís motivation. Surprisingly, over-the-top acting by Jared Leto (Requiem for a Dream) and Dwight Yoakam (Sling Blade), who play the other two robbers, didnít bother me, probably because it helped highlight Whitakerís more thoughtful work.

Thank heavens my panic over this Jodie Foster film has subsided now. Iím at peace recommending it "with reservations."

(Released by Columbia Pictures and rated "R" for violence and language.)

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