You’d think, at a certain point, people would stop messing with Liam Neeson. Kidnap his daughter? He will kill you all. Mess with his memory? He will kill you all. Abduct his wife? He will kill you all. Glue his parents into place? He will ki-well he won’t be happy about it anyway. But no, the bad guys refuse to catch a clue, and now the fools are at it again.
Bill Marks (Neeson) is an Irish-born U.S. Air Marshal having a really bad day. He’s drinking heavily, arguing with his boss, and heading out on a trans-Atlantic flight to London. Oh, and he hates to fly. Things worsen when an anonymous text hits his phone threatening to kill someone on-board the plane unless $150 million is wired into a specified account. Ever the professional, Marks sets out to find the culprit by any means necessary.
Non-Stop is closer to Taken than it is to Unknown on the sliding scale of Neeson ass-kickery flicks, meaning it’s miles ahead of the brain-dead Taken 2, and that’s great news for fans of fun, quotable action-thrillers.
Marks has few friends on the flight, but the pilots and head attendant (Lady Mary) know and respect him well enough. Jen (Julianne Moore) boards after Marks, swaps seats with another passenger, and ends up beside the marshal. She helps his nerves through take-off, and the two become friendly enough that he trusts her to help with his mid-air investigation.
Plane-set thrillers are nothing new, witness Flightplan and Red Eye, but while Non-Stop will never be mistaken for an especially intelligent thriller it does a pretty fantastic job with its “locked room” premise. Viewers will be calling out the villain again and again as new characters appear and new events transpire, and every time they think they’re ahead of the film they’ll reluctantly feel forced to reassess their accusation. It’s an impressive feat, accomplished both through the twisty script (by John W. Richardson, Chris Roach, and Ryan Engle) and some canny casting.
The passenger and crew manifest is front-loaded with shifty character actors including Scoot McNairy, Corey Stoll, Anson Mount, and Linus Roache, and together with the others it’s like a constantly shuffling deck of highly suspect suspects. Just as important, the actors are all having fun as they give themselves fully over to the non-stop plot machinations. Not only are we tasked with trying to guess who’s doing it but we also get to try and figure out how. It’s a silly movie that keeps the brain working, and that’s an impressive accomplishment.
Well, almost all. Moore is one of several generally strong actors seemingly incapable of saying no to projects that don’t really interest her, but instead of cashing the check and giving the role her all she seems to be half-assing the performance. Sure, it’s no Oscar drama, but while the rest of the cast know to play the serious situation seriously she’s all over the map tonally as if she’s in a completely different movie.
This is director Jaume Collet-Serra‘s second tour of duty with Neeson after 2011’s incredibly sloppy Unknown, and while the genre’s the same the quality has noticeably improved. (This trajectory bodes well for their third collaboration, Run All Night, due next year.) Collet-Serra, who also directed Orphan and the House of Wax reboot, shows a firmer grasp on building the suspense and tension of a scene through effective shots and edits. Revelations both thrilling and silly are given equal weight, and we can’t help but happily go along for the ride.
The script doesn’t succeed in getting all of its silliness by us unscathed though. There are a couple incidents whose explanations don’t hold water even by the rest of the film’s logic, and the grand motivational reveal behind everything is even less sensical.
Non-Stop sits comfortably at the mid-point between classic and disaster, but its sense of fun and confidence tip it towards the half worth seeing on a night out with friends, family, or paid companionship. The title may in fact be a lie, but there’s still plenty of entertainment to be found on this flight into the murder-filled friendly skies.
The Upside: No shortage of worthwhile red herrings; cast is game; surprisingly fun and never dull
The Downside: More than a little ridiculous at times; seriously, just confiscate the phones; Moore’s performance is tonally confused; motivation reveal is lame
On the Side: Despite the title’s promise, the film actually stops around the 106 minute mark.