Jodie Foster is definitely a name that can get me into a theater — not by itself, but it's a big plus — and not because of anything I can identify, really; seldom do I think to myself, "Wow, now that's acting!" or even "Man, is she hot!" (though the latter did cross my mind at certain moments in Panic Room, admittedly), and her public persona is fairly chilly. But she has this habit of popping up in films I love or at least quite like — Contact, Little Man Tate, The Silence of the Lambs, Taxi Driver — so either we've simply got similar tastes or there's something about her that I'm subconsciously drawn to (and given that I've been involved for three years now with someone who I've been known to describe as, "um, she's kinda like Jodie Foster," I have to go with the latter.) And much the same goes for David Fincher. Fight Club ruled, Seven was overrated but still worthy, and The Game is near the top of my see-again-soon list... as far as I'm concerned, this is a director on a winning streak. Throw in an interesting premise and I was sold — especially since it costs exactly 3/8 as much to see a movie here as in New York City.

So, after the usual awesome Fincher credit sequence, what do we get? A thriller that's really formulaic and yet really works. We're given a tour of a big house, introduced to the people who've just moved into it and who are allotted just enough characterization that we don't want them to get hurt, and then it's plot time. Three bad guys — and you just have to know that one's sympathetic, one's entertaining and one's psychotic, right? hasn't that been the rule since Messrs. White, Pink and Blonde? — break in, the Jodie character and her elevenish daughter flee to the impregnable "panic room," and then we count off some set pieces till it looks like it's time for a climax.

These set pieces are mostly quite good, even though we know how they have to come out. See, we can't have the bad guys getting into the panic room, since then the movie would be over, and we can't have the good girls escaping or reaching the cops, since then the movie would be over. We also can't have the two sides sitting around, since then the movie would be really really boring. So each side has to either be clever and then have their clever idea foiled, or else — and this is what usually happens, making for an entertaining film — one side has to be clever and then the other side has to be even more clever so that the parry is an even better payoff than a successful thrust would have been. And amidst all the strategizing by the characters we have the fairly obvious strategizing from the filmmakers: okay, so we have to make it okay for Jodie and the kid to do nasty violent things to at least one of the bad guys, so we have to make one of them clearly deserve it, so here's where we have the psycho guy wig out, etc. And we don't want the kid handling a semi-automatic, so as a weapon let's give her, oh, a syringe, which means we have to establish she's diabetic, and hey, that lets us do the thing where she needs a shot and can't get it, etc. So file it away with Cape Fear as a genre exercise. But, like Cape Fear, a good one with bravura moments to remind us that this may be B material but done by an A director.

So, no, it's not a sprawling epic like Fight Club. It's just a pocketwatch. But it's a nice one, and it seems to have more depth than it actually does because, hey, it's Jodie Foster. So, in the words of the inimitable Vern, "Way to go Jodie Foster thanks"

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