‘Non Stop’ Review
The opening shot of 'Non-Stop' has Liam Neeson pouring whiskey in a coffee cup and stirring it with a toothbrush. He then reaches out to a photo of a young girl to stroke it with his fingertips. After this the phone rings and the caller ID reads 555. In other words, three of the biggest movie cliches, all in about sixty seconds.
Director Jaume Collet-Serra is letting us know from the very start that it is perfectly okay to maybe fold some laundry or switch away to the game for a second during this movie. It's disposable, but that doesn't mean it is bad. In fact, it's about as good as his last Liam Neeson movie, 'Unknown.' And like that movie's reliance on dumb plot turns, 'Non-Stop' is similarly ridiculous-yet-infectious. There are unending scenes of Neeson furiously texting. There isn't just a briefcase full of cocaine or a briefcase with a bomb – there's a briefcase full of cocaine AND a bomb! By all rights, I should be condemning this lazy writing and dismissing this movie as junk. And yet, I'd be lying if I said I wasn't engaged from takeoff to landing.
Neeson plays an air marshal battling demons. His name is probably Jack or something, I can't remember and it doesn't even matter [Ed. note: Close! It's Bill]. He sits in business class taking mental notes of all the passengers on a night flight from New York to London. In actuality, he only needs to be watching half, as there's a second marshal on the plane, too. (This feels like overkill, but what do I know? I mean, I suspect not every flight gets an undercover agent, but this one gets two?)
Anyway, in addition to his partner (Anson Mount) there's somebody sending threatening texts across their secure server. He's got to be on the plane – how else would he know Neeson just tampered with the smoke alarm in the lavatory to take a few drags? This mysterious person wants $150 million in a bank account and if he doesn't get it in twenty minutes someone on the plane will die.
This is crazy, but Neeson decides to start poking around. He catches someone up to seriously nefarious deeds and is forced, in self-defense, to kill him. Threat neutralized? No – it just means the prophesy has come true. Someone DID die in 20 minutes, and the clock is reset again!
There's a fun stretch in the middle of 'Non-Stop,' where you think it is going full 'Fight Club' – that Neeson is actually the baddie but is too crazy to know it, or something. After all, the bank account on the business end of that transfer is his. Then you are convinced it's Julianne Moore, the gal next to him who held his hand during take off. (Yeah, he's an air marshal who is terrified of flying. At first you think it's meant as a cover, but I think it is supposed to be real!)
By the end of the picture, when you learn who is pulling the strings, a few “oh, I guess that makes sense” bells will go off, but there's not too much time to scrutinize it. I mean, by then there's Liam Neeson, a gun, an instant of zero-g and a slo-mo shot for the ages.
Despite the freightloads of stupidity in this movie (I didn't get to the little girl whose only job is to remind you that it would be really, really sad if this plane exploded), I must confess that, by and large, the crypto-Hitchcockian mystery kinda works. I mean, I didn't just shrug the movie off, I was actively trying to figure out who the bad guy was. Maybe you shouldn't be folding laundry after all.
Also, and importantly, Liam Neeson barking mad with his Irish brogue and dragging suspected hijackers around by the scruff of their neck is, indeed, a thing of beauty. Liam Neeson The Action Hero came to film culture kinda by accident – no one saw 'Taken' coming – but we're just one or two more of these movies away from him reaching full-on icon at this point.
'Non-Stop' opens in theaters on February 28.
Jordan Hoffman is a writer, critic and lapsed filmmaker living in New York City. His work can also be seen on Badass Digest and StarTrek.com.