Editor’s Notes: Non-Stop is now open in wide theatrical release.
When I first saw the trailer for Non-Stop (2014), I began referring to it as Taken 3: This Time He’s an Air Marshal. While that may not have been entirely fair, it wasn’t wholly inaccurate either. Liam Neeson has been churning out these mid-grade action pictures for years now, and this one is about the same as the rest of them (except 2011’s The Grey).
The story is of Bill Marks (Neeson), an alcoholic air marshal booked on a non-stop flight to London as one of the two air marshals. Three hours into the flight, he receives a text stating that a passenger will die every 20 minutes unless 150 million dollars is wired to an account.
Director Jaume Collet-Serra, who directed Neeson in Unknown (2011), does his best to keep this silly plot afloat with some well-played tension.
As Bill tries to unravel who is sending the texts, he begins to look unhinged. This concerns his friend, flight attendant Nancy (Downton Abbey’s Michelle Dockery) as well as the passengers. With growing paranoia and the sense that Bill has hijacked the plane, things go downhill fast. The account turns out to be in his name, and the TSA agent Bill is communicating with via air phone is convinced Bill is the enemy. The only one who never loses faith in him is Jen (Julianne Moore), who traded seats to sit in the window seat next to him.
There are of course multiple complications that make things increasingly bad for Bill. One of those complications is the second marshal on the flight and a clever adversary. The problem with Non-Stop isn’t that it’s poorly made. It’s actually put together quite well, which I’ll get to in a moment. It’s that the script is utterly implausible and the ending is too pat. The explanation that comes near the end is dumb and not explained very well at all and ultimately makes no sense. There are endlessly repeated scenes that were okay the first time and tiresome the third or fourth time we see them. Nothing particularly makes any sense and the way the film tries to divert your attention to ‘keep you guessing’ is inane. Anyone watching the film will know who the primary player is as soon as he appears and although they keep trying to make you think it’s someone else, it never really works for long.
Director Jaume Collet-Serra, who directed Neeson in Unknown (2011), does his best to keep this silly plot afloat with some well-played tension. He uses the confined area of an airplane well, and because of that he elevates the film from what could have been a total stinker to something that is at least watchable. He makes sure to isolate Bill and make us feel the loneliness and abandonment that Bill is feeling. We are able to trust the people he trusts and does well to obfuscate at least one or two things that become surprises at the end.
With all that working against it, the fact that Non-Stop remains watchable throughout is kind of stunning.
The main force of the film and why it’s not terrible is Neeson himself. Moore and Dockery are good, and even Lupita Nyong’o is in the film (though this film was no doubt completed before 12 Years A Slave was released, giving this immensely talented actress about 5 lines in the entire film, which effectively sidelines her completely). But Moore and Dockery are marginal compared to Neeson. He plays Bill for all he’s worth and adds layers and complexity to a character that would have been one-dimensional in lesser hands (as it almost certainly was on the page). To say he, and the three women, are too good for this material is as vast an understatement as saying the universe is ‘pretty big’.
In a way, I feel bad for Neeson. He’s an amazing actor who hasn’t been offered a part of any substance since Gangs of New York (2002), which he wasn’t in for long. So, he does what he can with these action pictures, and he’s never bad in them, in fact he’s typically the best part about them. He’s much too good to waste his time with this mid-level fare.
Now, as to the ending, I have to say some things. I won’t divulge who it is and why the whole thing is done, but I will talk about how dumb it is. Throughout the entire film, it feels like the scenario is played out due to vengeance. It would make sense that someone may have a grudge against Bill for something that he did in his less than stellar past and this is a way of besmirching his name permanently. But when the big reveal comes, it’s some grandiose political agenda that makes less and less sense as it is revealed. It’s almost like the writers wanted to make some big point about safety and the illusion of it, but did so in such a ham-fisted, inexplicable way that the whole thing is lost. Then, everything is just right as rain when Bill finally prevails (no spoiler there, if you’ve seen one of these films you’ve seen them all and there’s no way it would end on a dour note). It’s like public and legal opinion turned on a time and everything was okay again. And it seems that this whole event just miraculously cleared up all of Bill’s problems too. It all happens so fast that nothing stands up upon even a moment’s reflection.
With all that working against it, the fact that Non-Stop remains watchable throughout is kind of stunning. It’s nothing that will be remembered for long, but the 100 odd minutes you spend watching it go by quickly and you know you got what you paid for. You won’t go home quoting any lines or marveling over the action sequences, but you won’t feel robbed either. It does what it sets out to do and that’s it. Just don’t think about it too much.
[notification type=”star”]50/100 ~ MEDIOCRE. You won’t go home quoting any lines or marveling over the action sequences, but you won’t feel robbed either. It does what it sets out to do and that’s it. Just don’t think about it too much.[/notification]