Liam Neeson as Agent Bill Marks in the film ‘Non-Stop’. Photo Courtesy of Universal
“Non-Stop” starring Liam Neeson is the latest action thriller to be produced by Joel Silver and directed by Jaume Collet-Serra who previously directed Neeson in “Unknown.” Although many have described “Non-Stop” as “Unknown” on a plane, I would liken this to “Airport” unintentionally crashes into “Airplane.” This, as you may have already guessed, is not a good film, in many ways it is an awful film, but that, interestingly enough, is not to say that this isn’t a fun film and a great ride. All that is asked of the audience, and on paper it is more than it is in a darkened theater, is to suspend belief for 106 minutes (which is still probably 10 minutes too long).
Bill Marks (Liam Neeson) is clearly at the end of his rope and dreads going into work. On his cell phone in the airport parking lot, he swigs scotch from a paper cup and reiterates to his boss on the phone that he hates flying and really doesn’t want to show up for work. Reluctantly, he hangs up, lights up and drags his feet into the terminal and onto the jet way where he is greeted warmly by flight attendant Nancy (Michelle Dockery). Our reluctant passenger is the TSA Marshall assigned to this JFK to Heathrow flight and this doesn’t seem to bode well. His seatmate in Business Class is high strung Jen (Julianne Moore) who has manipulated Zach into trading places, putting her in the window next to Bill.
A couple of hours into the routine flight, Bill begins to receive threatening texts on his federally secured line. The mysterious intruder demands that $150 million be wired to a specified overseas account or he will kill a passenger on the flight and continue to do so every 20 minutes until his demands are met. Bill immediately makes calls to his superiors and asks them to find out to whom that account belongs. It belongs to Bill. The frame is tight and will grow tighter as the bodies begin to pile up, all pointing to Bill as the perpetrator, substantially raising the stakes. Bill is the only suspect in what is now being considered a hijacking and he must find a way to discover who has been sending the texts and instigating the murders. Bill, as the terrorists well know, is the perfect patsy – an alcoholic has-been in major financial difficulties who has never recovered from the death of his young daughter and the disastrous divorce that followed.
“Non-Stop” gets going and spirals out of control fast enough that it leads the audience on a white-knuckle ride that, even though you consciously are aware of the plot holes and the huge leaps that have to be made, carries you over the waterfall hoping for a safe landing that defies gravity. It’s somewhat like riding The Viper at Six Flags Magic Mountain. You’re screaming and laughing at the same time.
It’s great to see an actor of Liam Neeson’s stature and talent cast in this kind of role; however, as credible as he is in the role of action hero, he is unconvincing as a dissipate alcoholic despite the sweat on his brow, the cigarette dangling from his lips and the quaver in his voice. Neeson’s melancholy works to better advantage and it is that characteristic that allows the audience to ignore the false note of dissipation, although resurrection of the degenerate as a plot point can be gripping as it was with Denzel Washington, who owned his dissipation with an arrogant swagger in last year’s more effective “Flight.” Still, Neeson body chops and cogitates with the best of them.
The less said about Julianne Moore the better as she has been given little to do other than add name and face recognition to a film filled with a group of actors most of whom you won’t recognize. What was lacking for Julianne Moore was an actual role that was organic to the story, although clearly the director and writers would like you to see her as a credible leading lady and potential love interest for Neeson as there are elements of the classic love-hate-love dynamic so endemic to most films with a romantic thru-line.
Rarely credited when a film is successful, the writers of feature films seem to be an invisible element to the viewing public. In this particular case they are invisible, and I will not mention their names in order to protect their anonymity, because the script is essentially non-existent and what is there is pretty awful. Collet-Serra must also take the blame. Although he successfully keeps the action going at a pace that is almost rapid enough to make you ignore the sink holes along the way, his “film by” credit means that he approved this script and had a hand in all its missing elements.
But here’s the kicker, intellectually I thought this film was awful but I thoroughly enjoyed it and would recommend it as bubble gum fun to anyone who asks. Never did I feel I had wasted my time and I left with my heart beating faster and a smile on my face. No one involved with this film is going to come away with an Academy Award but you will enjoy this movie and its breathtaking moments even as you pick away at the plot points and the characters.
Go have fun, see this film and wait until the next November releases for intellectual stimulation at the cinema.