Raise your hand if you assume this has
something to do with my daughter.
Grade: B –
Director: Jaume Collet-Serra
Starring: Liam Neeson, Julianne Moore, Scott McNairy, Michelle Dockery and Lupita Nyong'o
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Running Time: 1 hr. 47 min.
Before boarding Non-Stop, it’s advisable that you check your logic at the ticket counter. Although superficially the latest dime-store thriller in Liam Neeson’s post-Taken, Charles Bronson-esque career, the film is really just the latest airplane nailbiter—think Flightplan, Passenger 57, Air Force One, and Red Eye. But unlike most of those film’s leads, Neeson is an Oscar winner. So even if his film vehicle veers off course, he still knows how to steer it toward its proper destination.
Neeson plays Bill Marks, an alcoholic, chain-smoking air marshal with a dead daughter, broken marriage and paranoid, prickly personality. In the middle of his latest transatlantic flight to London, Marks starts receiving taunting texts from a fellow passenger, threatening that a person onboard the plane will die every 20 minutes until the terrorist receives $150 million wired to an offshore bank account.
The narrative’s ensuing labyrinthian twists and turns churn up the bulk of the film. There’s engaging intrigue in the way the baddie delivers on his promise of periodic deaths. As for the guessing game over the villain’s identity, director Jaume Collet-Serra has much fun playing on stereotypes fueled by real-life and pop culture—is it the Muslim, the mouthy African-American, the hothead cop or even the unassuming, ditzy redhead (Julianne Moore)? It is a member of the flight crew? Another air marshal? Or even Marks himself?
The cat-and-mouse machinations keep matters interesting as Neeson ably portrays a deeply flawed protagonist, one who claims to possess a “special set of skills” but mostly succeeds in bungling his investigation so badly that everyone in the plane and on the ground despises and/or suspects him. He’s not a very good air marshal, as almost every insistent decision he makes is either misguided or furthers the villain’s master plan.
The main problem with Non-Stop is that after you’ve willingly suspended all disbelief in furtherance of its potboiler plot, the final act is an exercise in depressurized tidiness laced with a smidgen of post-9/11 hokum. There’s no nuance, daring or emotional cost for the audience, just the specter of ensuring the running time touches down under the two-hour mark and a denouement only a test audience could love.
Thanks to Neeson’s grizzled earnestness, Non-Stop is a decent B-movie matinee. Just bring plenty of popcorn, slathered with lots of cheese.