Liam Neeson has had it with these muthaeffin’ terrorists on this muthaeffin’ plane!
For most of its running time, Non-Stop provides breezy, no-nonsense, kitchen-sink entertainment, as screenwriters John W. Richardson, Christopher Roach and Ryan Engle craft a bitterly funny statement on airport security and flying in post-9/11 America. Unfortunately, not trusting the plot-driven execution of their ideas, they bring the movie to a screeching halt with a dreadful, obvious and insulting speech by the film’s villain. It’s so poorly conceived and executed it throws this steady flight of a movie way off-course. This happens late enough in Non-Stop that it didn’t wreck my enjoyment of the film, but the nasty aftertaste I left the theater with made me lower my grade.
Neeson plays Air Marshall Bill Marks, the kind of has-been, washed-up alcoholic who populates Joel Silver movies. On a flight to London, Marks starts getting texts from a mysterious person. The texts claim a murder will occur on the plane every 20 minutes unless $150 million is wired to an offshore account. In a nod to When a Stranger Calls, Marks discovers that the texts…are coming from INSIDE THE PLANE!!
But from whom? There are 150 passengers, and to the paranoid Marks, they all look guilty. Is it Jen (Julianne Moore), the woman who made a big deal out of switching her seat for the window seat next to Marks? Is it Nancy (Michelle Dockery), the flight attendant Marks trusts most? Is it Marks’ fellow air marshall/rival, who knows Marks is on edge from nicotine and booze withdrawal? Is it one of the two passengers Marks has nasty run-ins with pre-flight? Or is it the doctor who looks like the stereotypical notion of a terrorist (Omar Metwally)? (Maybe it’s Nancy’s fellow flight attendant, Lupita Nyong’o, sending a not-so-subtle message to Academy members on the same week Oscar voting closes?)
Director Jaume Collet-Serra (Neeson’s Unknown, the terminally stupid Orphan) and his screenwriters generate suspense not from the situation at hand, but from just how lousy Marks is at doing his job. Clearly unstable, Neeson gives the impression that, at any moment, he may just open fire on everybody—hell, eventually he’ll get the right person. Marks is less Bryan Mills from Taken, and more Martin Riggs from Lethal Weapon. Non-Stop even briefly teams him with his own personal version of Danny Glover’s Murtaugh, an exasperated Black programmer/cell phone expert named Travis (Nate Parker).
Marks beats up innocent passengers, barks orders on the intercom, smokes (and does other ill-advised things) in the business class lavatory and makes enough mistakes to get fired from a lesser job. When the passengers, under the guise of thinking Marks has hijacked the plane, attempt to beat him into submission, I was torn between rooting for the hero to convince them otherwise and watching him get his ass kicked.
Neeson wrings a lot of character from the thinly constructed Marks. Assisting him is his seatmate Moore, who brings the same level of idiosyncrasies that she gave her equally whacked out character in Don Jon. Corey Stoll leads the passenger rebellion as a memorably grouchy “Noo Yawk Ciry” cop, and Metwally brings a respectable grace to a character the other passengers look at warily. Scoot McNairy gets treated by Agent Marks the way any bully would treat a guy named Scoot. Unfortunately, the elegant and talented Ms. Nyong’o gets little to do, but the one scene in which she is showcased is pretty good. I was rooting for her to be the villain. Had Non-Stop been made in 2014, she just might have been.
Non-Stop embraces the silliness of its plot, playing like a less star-studded and more believable installment in Universal’s Airport series. Irwin Allen and his disaster-movie brethren would drool at what we’re served as the in-flight meal. There are pressure drops, guns firing, poisonings, broken necks, explosions, uncooperative superiors on the ground, cocaine, bombs, major pilot errors and a scared little girl who asks Marks, “Are you trying to bribe me?” We also get a great shot of people suddenly slamming against the airplane ceiling, which the filmmakers were nice enough to put in the trailer.
I can see this becoming yet another movie series for Neeson, though with Taken and The LEGO Movie, he’s franchising faster than McDonalds. They’d probably have to put him on a submarine or the space shuttle for Non-Stop 2: I Thought I Told You That We Won’t Stop.
I had fun with Non-Stop, at least until the crass 9/11-inspired villain speech at the end. It’s a pleasurable, exciting time-waster that is best seen in the one location it definitely will NOT be shown: An airplane.