Directed by David Fincher, starring Jodie Foster, Kristen Stewart, Forest Whitaker, Jared Leto and Dwight Yoakam.

David Fincher's position as a Hollywood maverick may have been guaranteed for life after 'Fight Club', but while that film brilliantly captured the male malaise and futility in modern life, it failed to set the American box office alight and left the director in need of a hit. His response is 'Panic Room', a film which finds Fincher doing a straightforward studio thriller but peppering it with enough of his own magic to keep his fans interested.

With her divorce corroding her self worth and relationship with daughter Sarah (Stewart), Meg Altman (Foster) moves into a spectacular New York brownstone as part of the settlement. Installed in the house is a 'panic room', a concrete fortress where the residents can hide out if there's a break-in. Not too crazy on enclosed spaces, Meg doesn't feel the room will be much use. That is until three thieves (Whitaker, Leto, Yokam) with designs on the previous owner's fortune come calling, forcing Meg to swallow her phobia and take shelter with the diabetic Sarah behind the steel doors.

If you're one of the millions who adored 'Se7en', 'The Game' and 'Fight Club', 'Panic Room' will prove something of a disappointment. It's Fincher's most straightforward film, and while it contains plenty of thrills along the way, it lacks the emotional and psychological wallops he has become famous for. Of course, when you put it alongside risible thriller fodder like 'Along Came a Spider' or 'Domestic Disturbance', it looks world class - but it could have been a far more unsettling experience.

Perhaps the most gratifying aspect of the whole experience is seeing Foster back in front of the camera again. While the script for 'Panic Room' is driven more by thrills than insight, her performance is arguably her most engrossing since 'Silence of the Lambs'. The relationship between her and onscreen daughter Stewart is nicely handled (continuing the theme of family which has followed Fincher through all his films) with one woman feeding off the other's mind when the chips are down.

As for the bad guys, Leto is suitably manic, Whitaker is the 'weakest' link and Yokam, in a truly bizarre performance, is one of the most evil burglars in cinema history. Sadly, the script also paints them as America's dumbest criminals and while it's great fun watching Foster outwit the trio, you never get the sense that Fincher is building up towards anything other than an ending you expect.

Taking much of its energy from the likes of 'Rear Window' and 'Straw Dogs', 'Panic Room' is set entirely within the four-storey house. While many directors' vision would prove too small to make the best use of the enclosed space, Fincher excels at creating a world within a world. Here, the corners and hallways are every inch as important as both Foster and Stewart and the result is a visually stunning film which is far better than the plot it's contained within. There are moments when you'll actually sit open-mouthed as the camera sweeps over balconies and down stairways, only to later travel through doorways and air vents.

Mainstream 'Panic Room' might be, but workaday directors don't usually create a film with such a distinctive look. Fincher described Panic Room to the BBC as his "guilty pleasure popcorn movie" and on that level it's one of the best of its kind in some years. It's taken $87 million at the US box office, will do full house business here and should give him the leeway to try something more out there next time around. It's fast and it's fun, but unlike his other films, it won't stay with you too long after you've left the cinema.

Harry Guerin