Boy what an absurd movie Non-Stop is. Oddly enough though, I don’t 100% mean that as a full on insult. As long as you don’t think much at all during the running time, this action thriller has its occasional moments. Seriously. Liam Neeson is again a reliable action hero, the tension created by the setting is more effective than you’d think, and the set up hints at a potentially surprising film. Then, the plot starts to kick into gear and the stupidity begins. As things progress, the flick gets dumber and dumber, including some moments that had me nearly howling. This is the sort of guilty pleasure that really requires you to turn your brain off. Director Jaume Collet-Serra and his crew of screenwriters are desperate to keep you guessing about who the villain is, and in that pursuit they constantly throw logic and sense out the window. They also waste their cast, which also includes Julianne Moore, Lupita Nyong’o, and Corey Stoll, among others, so that’s a bit of a cinematic sin as well. They do let Neeson be a bad ass though, so there’s that. I don’t think that Non-Stop is a good movie at all, but it’s more entertaining than I was expecting, so while my star rating for the film is a bit harsh, my feelings about it on the whole are a little more complex than normal.
When we first meet Federal Air Marshal Bill Marks (Neeson) in the opening scene, he’s sneaking a drink while parking his car at the airport. Before long, he’s had an argument over the phone with his supervisor, which is always a good idea. After that, he settles in for the transatlantic flight that he’s assigned to, with Jen Summers (Moore) seated next to him. Shortly after takeoff, he begins to get suspicious text messages. The mysterious person demands that he get $150 million transferred into an off shore account or every 20 minutes a passenger will die. As Marks begins to investigate, he realizes that whoever is doing this is also beginning to frame him for the crime in progress, and not just the money demand either, but a hijacking too. As the minutes tick away, just about everyone on the plane has a moment where they’re likely the killer, though when the “twist” comes, things begin to really go downhill. The strongest parts are when Marks is first figuring everything out and being outsmarted. Once he potentially gets the upper hand, the ridiculousness just hits critical mass. Thankfully, Neeson is on hand to at least somewhat dignify it all.
Liam Neeson has to be getting bored of being an action hero by now, but if he is, he isn’t overtly showing it onscreen. Neeson isn’t given much to do, but he plods through it with just the right amount of intensity and weariness. The material more or less wastes him, but me makes due. That’s more than anyone else in the cast can say though. The talent trio of Julianne Moore (essentially the second lead and Neeson’s almost sidekick at times), Lupita Nyong’o (as a flight attendent), and Corey Stoll (as a suspicious passenger) are absolutely wasted, while we also have Scoot McNairy on hand with very little to do as another passenger. The cast also includes the likes of Michelle Dockery and Shea Whigham in key roles, but they’re left just as high and dry as everyone else. Neeson is the only one given a real character to play, though Moore comes the closest otherwise, with Nyong’o reduced to standing in the background a lot. Without Neeson’s poised performance, this would be an absolute wasteland for talented actors and actresses. As it is, this isn’t a movie likely to be remembered for its performances, but just imagine if it had been some second rate action hero instead of him here.
Jaume Collet-Serra is a very workmanlike director, and while he’s actually fairly good at generating tension here (especially early on and before things go off the rails completely in the third act), he can’t make the script make a lick of sense. Scribes Ryan Engle, John W. Richardson, and Christopher Roach don’t seem to care if the twists and turns in the screenplay have any logic to them, and it shows. I’m perfectly willing to turn off my brain to some degree in a purported thrill ride like this one, but when instance after instance makes me roll my eyes, it winds up being too much to bear. They give Neeson one good monologue, but that’s it really. Collet-Serra does his part behind the camera, but without anything else to work with, he was fighting a losing battle from the get-go, so there was only so much to be done.
Honestly, for a February action movie, Non-Stop is serviceable enough, but there was enough potential here to warrant a better film than we wound up getting. Those of you who like watching Neeson kick ass will get a bit of that, but if you’re like me, you’ll just be left wanting more. Non-Stop had the ingredients to be a fun guilty pleasure, but the end result has a rather sour aftertaste…
–Thoughts? Discuss in the comments!