Non-Stop re-teams Liam Neeson with Unknown director Jaume Collet-Serra for a popcorn outing that aspires to provide the audience with some vaguely Hitchcockian mind games, but ultimately ends up as just another airborn action flick. While Non-Stop does deliver a legitimate twist or two, the claustrophobic airplane setting and the constant attempts at misdirection end up more grating than exhilarating. While there are worse ways to spend your time, Non-Stop never quite manages to distinguish itself from the pack.
Liam Neeson stars as Bill Marks, an alcoholic air marshal who doesn’t like to fly. While working a transatlantic flight, Marks receives mysterious text messages, with the sender threatening to kill a passenger (or crew member) every twenty minutes unless $150 million is transferred into a bank account…an account which just happens to be in Marks’ name. The jittery, hungover air marshal finds himself manipulated into all manner of compromising situations, increasingly frequent violent outbursts, and some treatment of passengers that would make any civil libertarian very nervous. His inability to locate or prove the existence of the voiceless killer leaves the passengers (and maybe the odd audience member) doubting his sanity, and wondering if they’ve been hijacked.
Does this sound a little convoluted? It is. But when Non-Stop comes together (and it does have its moments sprinkled throughout) it’s certainly different. The thing is, it never really manages to get the heart pounding, and the film often fall back on the usual post-Die Hard/Speed cliches. Nevertheless, there are still a few standout bits. A rather brutal fight to the death in an airplane lavatory (with a bespectacled Anson Mount, no less) is surprisingly effective, and I was amazed at just how much damage they managed to inflict on each other in such close quarters. The film never really comes up with anything remotely that original again, sadly, but at least it keeps you guessing for awhile. On an unrelated note, why is nearly everyone on this plane still using flip phones? Is Non-Stop a period piece?
Neeson brings a convincingly hungover and haggard performance to the table in addition to his usual presence, although he never approaches the intensity we’ve come to expect from his other action roles. His more paranoid moments recall the unhinged Peyton Westlake of Darkman more than anything else, while his fellow passengers (and/or prisoners) who include Julianne Moore, Nate Parker, and Downton Abbey‘s Michelle Dockery, are little more than in-flight snacks, there to play off Mr. Neeson’s increasingly frustrated and desperate performance or to have the camera cast accusatory glances at them.
Non-Stop does try, though…at least in its first half. It almost succeeds in making you doubt Neeson’s embattled air marshal for a minute or two. If you (like this writer) don’t particularly love to fly, that may help the generally unsettled, paranoid atmosphere take effect and make some of the film’s more difficult to swallow conceits go down easier. But there are only so many times you can let the camera linger ominously on different passengers and crew in order to cast suspicion before you start shaming the director for crying wolf. And no, readers, that wasn’t a joke about The Grey.
So where is the bad guy (or bad guys) in this movie? Oh, don’t worry, he (they?) does finally appear. And when he does, while it was after at least one or two marginally effective pieces of misdirection, it still makes for a rather talky, over-explainy climax that would have been more at home on your average police procedural than here. I suppose there’s a reasonable motivation in there somewhere, but after spending the majority of the previous 70-something minutes on everything other than this individual, the big reveal was stripped of any real impact. What is it about action movies and their lack of really threatening villains these days?
And speaking of impact, I don’t think it’s too much of a spoiler to let you all in on the fact that what goes up must, indeed, come down at some point, so that plane is going to have to land…and I’m sure you can guess it isn’t an easy landing. Unfortunately, this is accomplished via some not entirely convincing special effects, and the quick bit of spectacle actually ends up marring Non-Stop‘s more effective and subtle moments. Despite its best efforts to give us something new, Non-Stop never really gets above the clouds.