Directed by: Jaume Collet-Serra
Premise: In the midst of a trans-Atlantic flight, an air marshal (Liam Neeson) receives mysterious text messages from someone threatening to kill the passengers unless federal funds are transferred to an off-shore account.
What Works: The first quarter of the year is usually flooded with action-oriented B-movies and Non-Stop certainly fits that bill. “B-movie” is a term that’s typically used dismissively and in some cases deservedly so, but these pictures can be satisfying popcorn entertainment and Non-Stop is a serviceable action thriller. The movie has a novel concept. The action is limited to the interior of a jet airliner, which allows for the filmmakers to exploit the claustrophobia of a limited space. The story continuously introduces complications and plot twists and as absurd as the movie can be the filmmakers are able to keep the picture going until the climax. Non-Stop stars Liam Neeson as a troubled air marshal and Neeson has built a pillar of his career doing movies like this such as Taken and Unknown. The actor does this kind of role well and his performance in Non-Stop is consistent with similar parts in other movies. The casting of Non-Stop’s supporting roles is also pretty good, including Michelle Dockery as an airline stewardess, Omar Metwally as a doctor, and Corey Stoll as a police officer. These actors provide a lot of reality to a movie that otherwise plays fast and loose with its credibility. The cast also includes Julianne Moore as a passenger seated next to Neeson’s character and together Moore and Neeson have a likable rapport.
What Doesn’t: Non-Stop flows from one set piece to the next and that’s what keeps the movie afloat but the mystery is not very involving. Compared to similar films like Buried or Phone Booth, Non-Stop lacks an effective atmosphere of paranoia or the impression of a growing threat. One event follows the other but there is very little feeling of escalation in which the film moves toward an inevitable conclusion. Neeson’s character attempts to get to the truth but his investigation isn’t very smart, in part because the mystery itself isn’t very well concocted. Good mysteries are all about details and manipulating the audience’s expectations. In Non-Stop the evidence is mostly inconsequential and most everyone and everything in the movie are what they initially appear to be. In an effort to create jeopardy and drama the filmmakers of Non-Stop inject amendments to the mystery but it comes across as desperation by the filmmakers instead of the turns of a well-planned puzzle. The story of Non-Stop becomes more and more strained as it goes on, as though the filmmakers are running out of ideas about what to do in their limited space and the plot relies on a lot of absurd coincidences and ludicrous plot twists. The lack of escalation may be due in part to the absence of an antagonist. Liam Neeson’s character gets anonymous text messages but for much of the movie he does not come into direct or even indirect conflict with the villain and what ought to be a compelling cat-and-mouse game is not very thrilling. When Non-Stop gets to the finale the motive behind the terror plot is finally revealed and when it is the filmmakers lose a lot of credibility and soil whatever goodwill the viewers might have. This is partly due to the fact that the mystery backtracks on itself, revising the truth about certain characters, but also because it makes a hokey and stupid connection to the September 11th attack. This reference to a very real terrorist attack in the context of a silly popcorn movie arises out of nowhere and it comes across very crass.
Bottom Line: Non-Stop is a mediocre movie. For fans of Liam Neeson’s action pictures, this is acceptable as an afternoon matinee time waster but the film could have just as easily have been a direct-to-DVD feature starring Nicolas Cage or Jean Claude Van Damme.
Episode: #482 (March 16, 2014)