Directed by Jaume Collet-Serra
Starring Liam Neeson, Julianne Moore, Scoot McNairy, Michelle Dockery, Nate Parker, Corey Stoll, Lupita Nyong’o, Omar Metwally
Action, Mystery, Thriller
Perfectly adequate entertainment, slyly primed to keep you guessing and anchored with deliciously smarmy stars, Non-Stop is exactly the kind of in-flight, mile-high thriller you’d expect attached to the name Liam Neeson. From Neeson and Julianne Moore to Corey Stoll and Scott McNairy, there’s a bevy of great performers lining the rows from business class to coach, each given their fair share of silliness to weave into stakes-laden seriousness. While the script may leak the occasional nonsense into the proceedings of this 3,300 mile Transatlantic trip, thankfully none of the performers are caught with their pants down. If the goal is to keep the ball up in the air as long as possible, they’ve done their jobs right, helping make Non-Stop a perfectly suitable one-and-done thrill ride sure to please the masses.
Non-Stop Neeson might as well be Brian Mills at some different stage in his life – a bizzaro version whose daughter never made it to France (…or out of grade school). Instead of honing his particular set of skills, he stooped into a depressive alcoholic state. Still preserved is his towering frame and inimitable Irish-American cadence, making him the kind of pensive brute that you’ll believe can snap a neck with his bare hands, the brand of machismo that you can easily muster up a scenario in which you’d submit to him like a field mouse to its prey. If Neeson’s new found persona as an action hero relies on him domineering opponents in a mental wrestling match, he’s the E. Honda of intimidation. With this half-drunk, gunslinger of the sky growling at you in meaty garbles, you’d find yourself cowering in the fuselage corner too.
To call it “Taken on a Plane” would be an oversimplification but it’s a easy distinction to make for people with about a half-second attention span; a quick soundbite to consume for the inattentive rabble, so let’s run with it. But while Taken steered Neeson’s career in wildly unexpected places, having him dash around France at neck break speeds to, uh, break necks, Non-Stop is a good step outside the same categorical genre. Where Taken is an all-out actioner, this is much more of a suspense-thriller; reserved, predatory and only sparsely violent. As Non-Stop rarely relies on action beats, it’s ability to skirt around said beats makes it all the more intriguing to our somewhat quelled intellect and, more importantly, the film’s internal sense of suspense.
Confronted with the threat that an anonymous hijacker will kill someone on the plane every twenty minutes until $150 million is deposited in an account, Neeson’s Bill Marks stirs with questions of “How do you kill someone on a crowded plane and get away with it?” Indeed. Cleverly enough, writers John W. Richardson, Christopher Roach and Ryan Engle manage to dovetail the promise of in-flight demise with the need to keep the antagonist anonymous. As we get to know the crowded plane load of colorful potential suspects, our suspicions waver like a compass on a magnet, never quite showing us true north and sporadically pointing in new directions. At times, we’re worried that the threat may not even be on the actual plane but thankfully we’re never confronted with this “waking from a dream” cop out of a twist. No, everything is rather succinctly handled in the as-promised confines of the airplane, allowing this Chekov’s gun to be as tightly loaded as possible and ready to spring at any moment.
When (s)he inevitably comes out of the closet, the perfunctory villain’s explanation is undeniably underwhelming, but it’s nice to see something other than the one-trick pony that’s become the man “who wants to watch the world burn” or, even more boring, those who “are just in it for the money.” Even though the worldview-cocking, diatribe-spewing conclusion feels half-baked, at least our villain musters up an excuse for their passenger-offing dickishness. As convoluted and circumstantial as their plan may be, at least there is a plan and a semblance of an ideology.
Demanding a mention is the addition of soon to be Oscar-winner Lupita Nyong’o who is also onboard for no particular reason other than to rock a relic of the past by way of hairdo, a glib style only suitable for runway models or Bond girl May Day. For someone primed to add a trophy to her shelf by the end of the weekend, she’s barely juiced for more than a line, a reality that I lament for little more than the fact that I wanted to see her flex her acting chops outside the realm of slavery.
While most of the film’s logic can be punted through with the mention of a black box, it’s not one of those omnipresent nags that won’t allow you to enjoy watching the events unfold as they do. The circumstantial implications throughout are hazy though, delving into the increasingly present question of whether security is worth the cost of sacrificing one’s personal liberties. 9/11 anxiety or no, I think we can all safely agree that we don’t want random security checks in the midst of our commutes, be they on board an airplane or otherwise. Pushing those bits of moralistic ponderances aside, Neeson again shows a knack for straight-faced comedy and his couple of off-the-cuff jokes roped the audience into easy stitches. Undeniably ripe for a sequel (or even franchise), Non-Stop is exactly what it ought to be: fun, fizzy and forgettable.