Liam Neeson joins the mile high club in “Non-Stop.”
He plays Bill Marks, an aging U.S. federal air marshal safeguarding the 150 passengers (including Julianne Moore, Corey Stoll, Linus Roache and flight attendant Lupita Nyong’o) on an international flight from New York to London.
He’s also a burn-out, a lonely guy with a loaded gun and a propensity to get loaded on booze. The routine flight becomes fraught with danger when he receives text messages from a mysterious source threatening to kill a passenger every twenty minutes unless a ransom of $150 million is deposited into a bank account. When that account is discovered to be in Marks’s name he’s accused of being a hijacker.
“Non-Stop” has more red herrings than a fish and chips shop. Clues are dropped and discarded and the plot is so ludicrous that every now and again someone has to say, “I can explain this,” so the audience has a fighting chance of making some kind of sense of the intrigue. The story is simple but is muddied by outrageous twists. Once I decided to not try and play along—this isn’t “True Detective” where every word and scene counts—I enjoyed watching Neeson in action man mode. He’s better than the movie and he made this movie better simply by showing up.
There is a certain cheesy joy to be found in the image of Neeson floating in zero gravity, grabbing a gun out of the air and getting business done. Nothing can spice up a borderline action movie like the Flying Neeson Shot ™. He has carved a unique action niche for himself and seems to be having fun growling and gunning his way through trashy action movies.
Is “Non-Stop” great art? Nope, but did you really expect it to be? It’s the Neesonator after all.
Director Jaume Collet-Serra makes good use of the airplane’s small spaces, builds some nice scenes of claustrophobic tension and even makes a comment on how news organizations jump to conclusions, using conjecture instead of facts to fill the twenty-four hour wheel but story credibility is not his strong point.
Building tension, however, is. The movie is bookended by two terrific scenes. At the beginning Collet-Serra takes his time with the nicely shot boarding of the airplane sequence. Unease builds as the passengers, one of whom is a terrorist (not a spoiler, watch the trailer), take their seats.
The climax (SPOILER ALERT) is a typical ticking bomb sequence, but it’s an exciting one with cool visuals and the aforementioned Flying Neeson Shot ™.
The supporting cast is serviceable, in underwritten and generic roles. I hope Julianne Moore buys something nice with the pay cheque. She gets the job done, but that part could have been played by anyone. I feel worse for Lupita Nyong’o. She’s an Oscar nominee for “12 Years a Slave,” but here she’s reduced to a Grace Jones impersonator with just a few lines.
Despite a good pace and mounting tension, “Non-Stop is almost undone by superficial characters and a silly story. I say almost because it’s been Neesonized, the action movie equivalent of a sprinkle of fairy dust.
2 ½ STARS