02 March 2014

Review: Non-Stop


There couldn't have been a better weekend to put out Non-Stop than three days before the Academy Awards. With heavy films on the minds of most cinephiles and movie fans, pure, dumb fun picked the perfect time to pop up in cinemas.

The premise of Liam Neeson's lastest vehicle puts the volatile marshal on a plane full of snappy, pissed-off New Yorkers on a trans-Atlantic flight to London. Unfortunately for said travelers U.S. Air Marshall William Marks is pretty much the last person you want with a gun on an airplane. He's an alcoholic, he has a bad temper and he is *this* close to losing his job.


Looking forward to some peace on the long flight, a text message ends whatever thoughts he had of a nap. The series of texts end with one simple demand: wire $150 million into an off-shore account. Should that demand not be met, a passenger will die every 20 minutes. At first no one is willing to believe Marks, the pilot and stewardess simply chalk up the panic to him needing a drink. Even the other marshal on the plane has his doubts about the legitimacy of the threat.

150 passengers onboard and any one of them could be on the other end of the phone. The doctor of neuroscience (Omar Metwally) who looks like the stereotype of a terrorist, the yuppie who keeps bumping into Marks around the airport, and even his fellow marshal (Anson Mount). Undeterred by doubt, Marks pursues his investigation further enraging not only the passengers and crew, but the TSA headquarters in Washington as well. Detaining, beating and berating passengers unlawfully, Marks ends up public enemy #1 on the news.

With everything and everyone conspiring against Marks, he ups the ante by going Taken 3 on presumed suspects. If Non-Stop works on any level, it's as a tongue-in-cheek acknowledgement of flying in a post-9/11 world. Anyone who flies on a regular basis is familiar with the hassles of airport security, but it's less often you have to worry about being tied up with a seatbelt and having your face slammed into a drink cart. The film doesn't succeed as a thriller because any tension or suspense derived from the whodunit nature of the plot is quickly swept away by sheer incompetence on the part of Agent Marks.

At the age of 61, Liam Neeson is on a career path he probably never saw coming, a full-fledged action star carrying box-office weekends on his back with a stern command of threatening gestures and kick-ass moves. Neeson manages to make what happens onscreen watchable, but the material never quite matches up with Neeson's talents.

Known for 2011's Unknown, Jaume Collet-Serra made his name in smaller horror features and his camera movements reflect that in Non-Stop. Floating about the cabin, zipping around passengers heads, constantly watching Marks and hoping for a screw up. It's an interesting visual choice, but it is quikcly abandoned for kinetic, fast-paced editing that mimicks Michael Bay/Jerry Bruckheimer efforts from a decade ago.

And if it were as well-built as a film like Con-Air that would be fine, but when it comes to a decent villain, Non-Stop falls on its face. In a scheme devised to prove something that defies any logic, the villain's reveal halts whatever value the film had in escapist fun. I don't expect much in the way of a Hans Gruber here, but, wow, that reveal left my audience in stitches.

Non-Stop feels like the disaster films that were so popular in the 90s, featuring protagonists trying to repair their personal lives through their jobs and diverse casts frequented with familiar faces like Julianne Moore, Scoot McNairy and even Corey Stoll, doing his best John McClane impression as a quippy officer from the NYPD.

Maybe for the next trick, the sequel will follow him on an even longer flight.