What’s it About?
An air marshal springs into action during a transatlantic flight after receiving a series of text messages that put his fellow passengers at risk
Directed by Jaume Collet-Serra
6 out of 10
Actor Liam Neeson (Excalibur, Darkman, The Phantom Menace) continues his unceasing streak of disposable pop thrillers with the film, “Non-Stop,” directed by Jaume Collet-Serra, who also helmed “Unknown” with Neeson and delivered a pretty strong horror film in 2009, called “Orphan” with Vera Farmiga (Bates Motel). In this fatuous and sometimes harebrained actioner, Neeson plays a struggling alcoholic and an angry and frustrated United States Federal Air Marshal named Bill Marks. Marks, though very observant and meticulous in his profession (The terminal / screening scene is a cool indication that nothing usually gets by Marks), has a past that catches up to him in this white knuckle airplane drama that hits a few routine highs and despite the silliness of it all, with a finale that is quite laughable, still manages to keep it’s stride due to Neeson and the apt suspense provided by Collet-Serra and his writers, John W. Richardson and fellow Rochestarian Christopher Roach.
Once up in the air, in a flight to London from NYC, Marks meets up with Julianne Moore (30 Rock) who plays an interesting character, named Jen, who also has a secretive history as well. Marks, gets settled in after Jen successfully calms him down during take off. (He is an Air Marshal that is a bad flyer? Hmm. Ok, then). He then begins to get mysterious and cryptic cell phone texts from someone who claims to be a passenger. And so the film takes off (pun intended), gang. Unless an exorbitant amount of money is placed in a account within a short time frame, the stranger threatens to kill the flyers one by one until it is done. So, Marks is in a real pickle, no? Why him? Is he being framed or tested by someone from his past? Or is it one of the people on the airplane he thinks he trusts, including the pilot? Who is this person? And with the menagerie of quirky, strange and typical who’s who’s of airplane passengers, getting to the bottom of this mystery without getting any innocent flyers killed is bound to have dire consequences. And no one is beyond suspicion. Not even Jen and not any of the flight attendants.
As the story progresses and Collet-Serra builds the suspense among some taut and well placed action, Neeson kicks into familiar territory with his heavy acting chops and gravitas. He is always capably being the good guy with a troubled story in his rear view but is ever so much the one dude (whether an air marshall or ex-cia operative) that you want to root for. And in “Non-Stop,” with all of the ridiculous subplots and developments, one can’t help get involved and entrenched in Neeson’s action charm. And in this film it is always on display. It is as if he knows that he is the reason we are watching this and he needs to sell it.
The problem is that the movie, which does have more than it’s share of twists and turns, just doesn’t really connect in all the right places, and in hindsight, the more you examine the rote trappings, the less it stands up to scrutiny. The details and research are all here and what I suppose that Collet-Serra does best with this thriller is to try to make the implausible quite plausible. Collet-Serra manages to put the cast of characters and the audience through it paces. Some of which works, like the hard boiled and tough NYPD cop Reilly, played by Corey Stoll (Midnight in Paris) is a welcome addition to the mayhem and some of it is a bit pedestrian and blasé. In particular, the reveal , which really makes little sense and feels tacked on for convenience.
The reason and motivations behind the frame up of Marks and the would be terrorist plot against the airline seems very contrived and ultimately goofy. Actor Scoot McNairy plays Tom Bowen and manages to not only make him one-note but he telegraphs just about every twist that is to come thanks to the material not being able to withstand the scrutiny. Moore, too, is just window dressing through out the film and is relegated to just reacting to the proceedings un-enthusiastically and delivering really lame lines like: “You’re a dick” here and there. But as the action progresses, Moore steps up and actually finds her footing but only because she is playing opposite Neeson and really is not able to be her own entity in the mystery which would have been very cool to see.
The already claustrophobic confines of the airplane is handled really well by Collet-Serra’s DP, Flavio Martinez Labiano (Unknown, Timecrimes). The camera-work is seamless (with no cam or rig shadow to be seen) and it moves about in a careful 360 degree flow. Once you buy what Collet-Serra wants to show you and reveal within the tight spaces of the airplane the more it adds realism and depth. Composer John Ottman’s (H20, Superman Returns) music is quite capable but not very memorable but in places the action cues adds to the suspenseful build up. The welcome technical prowess aside, though, “Non-Stop” is still a serviceable but rather corny suspense trip. The exciting action climax is virtually near impossible to believe but by then we don’t really care if it even remotely able to happen in real life as long as Neeson can kick some ass and get the bad guys albeit some rather bland bad guys. Like I said earlier, Neeson must sell it and he does with cheeky precision and that ever present wink to us fans.
The revelations made along the way by Marks and by us are hit or miss and sometimes can provoke an eyeroll or two. At least Collet-Serra is to be commended for knowing how to build tension and anxiety among the rag tag cast of suspects and knowing how to keep the pace going in the right direction. But in the bigger picture, the film seems to take a dip in cabin pressure without really taking a nose dive. It maintains a respectable amount of action, big stakes, B movie charm and a likeable pace for what is practically a genre in itself”: The yearly Neeson action flick. Have fun with it, gang but if you want quality chills and thrills with your airline peanuts then pick “Flight Plan” or “Red Eye” from Wes Craven.