Non-Stop (United States, 2014)February 27, 2014
Non-Stop plays like what might happen if Michael Bay directed a screenplay developed for Alfred Hitchcock. The movie, while so utterly preposterous as to provoke guffaws, is presented in such a way that there's a building sense of tension. As a result, Non-Stop offers a couple of suspense-filled hours that stretches the viewer's credulity to the breaking point. Put it in the "guilty pleasure" category. For those who have become fans of Liam Neeson through his butt-kicking movies (Taken, Taken 2, The Grey, etc.), this is yet another one to throw into that category. It provides what it promises.
Bill Marks (Neeson) is a broken-down, alcoholic man whose life is falling apart. He also happens to be a Federal air marshal. On his latest flight, a transatlantic excursion bound for London, he encounters a terrorist situation. An anonymous e-mailer sends him a message over a secure system informing him that, if $150 million isn't deposited into an account, one person on the plane will die every 20 minutes. At first, Bill isn't sure what to make of the threat. He discusses it with fellow marshal Jack Hammond (Anson Mount) and informs the captain and the head flight attendant, Nancy (Michelle Dockery). The allotted time passes and Bill is forced to take the situation seriously when one body turns up. But there's a twist: the terrorist's plot isn't just about making a lot of money, it's about framing Bill for his/her actions.
The average plane-based thriller has obvious advantages and disadvantages. On the one hand, the enclosed space and limited number of characters make it an excellent setting for a classic mystery-thriller. On the other hand, it's easy for the action to get very silly. Non-Stop does a solid job of making use of the former but also treads into the territory of the latter. The absurdities don't get close to those of Snakes on a Plane, however. This is more in line with Air Force One, although it's not as tightly wound as Wolfgang Petersen's 1997 thriller starring Harrison Ford as the U.S. President. Plot holes abound, some of which are glaring. Director Jaume Collet-Serra (who previously worked with Neeson in Unknown) and his screenwriters are able to effectively conceal the "reveal" in the usual bucket of red herrings. Few viewers will feel cheated by the way things turn out. The narrative features its share of twists and turns, some more plausible than others, but one gets the sense Hitchcock might have been entertained by this sort of movie, although his approach would have focused on the slow-burn paranoia rather than lavatory fight scenes.
Neeson, who might have seemed an unlikely action hero before playing a Jedi Knight and a Batman nemesis, works in this kind of role because viewers perceive him as a decent, righteous individual. Even considering Bill's various character flaws (he drinks, smokes, and is generally unfriendly), we're immediately in his corner. Most of the plane's passengers are played by relatively anonymous actors. One exception is Julianne Moore, who portrays the woman in the seat next to Bill. Another is Downton Abbey's Michelle Dockery as a flight attendant. Sharp-eyed viewers might recognize Oscar nominee Lupita Nyong'o in a small role as another flight attendant. She has about three lines of dialogue. Presumably, a Supporting Actress award for 12 Years a Slave will ensure she doesn't get stuck with parts like this in the future.
Non-Stop is forgettable, disposable entertainment. It's cinematic junk food. It tastes good during consumption but offers nothing of lasting value. It has solid crowd appeal and, given the public's easy acceptance of Liam Neeson as an action hero, will probably perform well at the box office. For two hours it's fun but a couple of days later, it will be forgotten.
Non-Stop (United States, 2014)
Cast: Liam Neeson, Julianne Moore, Michelle Dockery, Lupita Nyong'o, Corey Stoll, Scoot McNairy
Screenplay: John W. Richardson & Christopher Roach and Ryan Eagle
Cinematography: Flavio Labiano
Music: John Ottman
U.S. Distributor: Universal Pictures