“Non-Stop” *** (out of 5)
Starring: Liam Neeson, Julianne Moore, Scoot McNairy, Michelle Dockery, Nate Parker, Corey Stoll, and Lupita Nyong’o
Written by: John W. Richardson & Chris Roach (story), John W. Richardson, Chris Roach, and Ryan Engle (screenplay)
Directed by: Jaume Collet-Serra
**ATTENTION: POSSIBLE SPOILER ALERT**
There may come a day when Liam Neeson can no longer play the same (or similar) role over and over and get away with it. Today is not that day. He’s the sensitive yet menacing lead that audiences have warmed up to again and again (“Taken”, “The Grey”) . He’s a down-to-earth god (“Clash of the Titans”), a war captain (“Battleship”), and even a benevolent yet rebellious Jedi (“Star Wars, Episode I”). He’s the go-to guy for films that need a front man who audiences trust to not be too risqué, yet deliver on chops. His latest action-fest “Non-Stop” happens to be a generic film, and I liked it more than I should have. I attribute that almost entirely to Neeson’s presence, and the expectations that now come with it.
Neeson plays Bill Marks, a troubled, weary, alcoholic federal air marshal. I’m sure the United States government chooses nothing but top-notch candidates to be air marshals, but I’m also sure that many of them are likely worn out by their jobs. Bill sure is worn out by his, or perhaps it’s because of his life (does it matter?). However, he keeps on keepin’ on, albeit with a swig of booze beforehand. His latest flight is from London to New York (how’s that for foreshadowing?), and luckily for him, he gets to sit right next to Julianne Moore. After all, if you’re going to take a transatlantic flight, can it at least be next to her? She’d probably be game for a deep soul-searching chat, right? The problem here is that we know her, and if something goes awry, how can we not expect her to be involved? I’m sure this violates one of Roger Ebert’s ‘Movie Laws’.
I digress, for something does go awry once the flight is airborne, and we must get to that. Bill receives a disturbing message (spoiler alert- it’s not Brett Favre’s dick) on his phone threatening to kill someone on the plane every 20 minutes unless, you got it, money is deposited to a special account. Bill has a secure phone, so whomever is texting him threats must really be, well, threatening. Even worse, people begin to actually die, so somehow someone is sending him messages and making this all happen. Bill knows the lead stewardess (Dockery), and enlists her and Julianne Moore to watch everyone on camera to see who answers their text. This creates the air of suspicion, distracting us from the real troublemaker.
This film tries so hard to throw the audience off the scent by throwing in just enough recognizable character actors to generate reasonable doubt. It basically works, for at one point during the film I eliminated everyone on the plane from being culpable, and began to consider even spiritual angles. Bravo, plot. It’s a contrived scenario, simply just to be contrived. I actually started thinking back to Occam’s Razor (all things considered, the simplest explanation is likely the correct one). If only I’d begun with that, and went with my gut feeling that the one responsible was, in fact, responsible. After all, “Non-Stop” wasn’t interested in changing the action-thriller game. All the usual suspects for a functional whodunit are present, and while effective, doesn’t blow our minds.
Sure, the ending is unsatisfying, hammy, and abrupt. Sure, the would-be terrorist’s reasoning is unoriginal, selfish, and delivered in typical ‘villain reveals all motives for no reason’ fashion. Sure, there’s another angle the filmmakers could have gone with regarding post 9/11 paranoia, or the loneliness of people who live in the air. Sure, it’s not ground-breaking. I really should hate this film for taking me on another unnecessary action-thriller ride, but I just cannot bring myself to do so. It’s banality is just so complete, and I can’t help but wonder- was Liam Neeson was really the only thing I drew me to enjoy this movie? The answer is basically yes, and that’s fine. I would probably enjoy watching Liam Neeson simply sit on a flight and make strained facial gestures for 2 hours. Really, who needs a film where he takes charge of a flight and hunts down a terrorist? In fact, maybe I should write that script. (Better get to it before Michael Bay or Luc Besson does)