Red Eye, review: brainless, far-fetched, silly – and great Sunday-night fun

Richard Armitage in Red Eye
Turbulent times: Richard Armitage in Red Eye - Laurence Cendrowicz/ITV

Red Eye is a daft new Sunday-night ITV thriller set on board a flight from London to Beijing. If you’re the kind of person who watches a drama and cries: “But that would never happen!” then this one is best avoided. But if you’re in the mood for some mindless fun, then buckle up.

What can I tell you? It’s the kind of drama in which the intelligence services want to shred company documents without anyone knowing, then walk out of the company’s front door in full view of the public carrying the shredded paper in see-through boxes. Also the kind of drama in which the hero, a mild-mannered doctor, discovers his inner Rambo (remember the scene in First Blood where Sylvester Stallone stitched up his arm with fishing wire?) and repairs his wounds with a stapler from his hotel desk.

That hero is played by Richard Armitage, now the go-to man for daft thrillers – see Netflix’s recent hit Fool Me Once. Red Eye opens with him fleeing a Beijing nightclub after a trip for a medical conference goes horribly wrong. He returns to Heathrow, is stopped by a very unpleasant man from the UK Border Force – the only realistic note in the series, from my personal experience – and placed back on an outgoing flight, because the Chinese authorities are framing him for murder and want him extradited.

The remainder of the six episodes (box-setted on ITVX) take place on board the plane. Armitage’s character, Dr Matthew Nolan, is accompanied by a Hong Kong-born, British-raised detective, DC Hana Li (Jing Lusi). When bad things start happening on the flight, she begins to suspect that he’s telling the truth about his innocence. Think of the worst flight you’ve ever been on and double it.

Writer Peter A Dowling wrote Flightplan, a Jodie Foster film set on a plane. It’s a decent setting for a thriller – no escape, limited places to hide, high jeopardy if something happens to the captain. Idris Elba’s Apple TV+ series Hijack, also took place over the course of a flight, and is superior to Red Eye. The tension drops when the action switches to the ground, with Lesley Sharp as a steely MI5 boss and Jemma Moore as an annoying reporter.

The dialogue signposts everything that will happen. “Call Sir George Chapman at World Pacific Medicine!” Nolan yells as he’s being carted off, which is your clue to be suspicious about Sir George. “I’m vegan,” Nolan says on the flight, and you know that his in-flight meal will be an integral part of the plot. Still, there’s just enough to keep you guessing. Red Eye takes itself seriously, but you don’t have to.

All episodes of Red Eye are on ITVX now

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