Review: See 'Non-Stop' for Awesome Action, Not a Thrilling Mystery
by Jeremy Kirk
February 28, 2014
You’ve got to hand it to Liam Neeson. The guy knows precisely on which side his bread is buttered. Since rising to Stallone-level status in the action world, Neeson has been on a tear, dropping into plenty of action films, only worried about the punching and kicking. The same goes for Jaume Collet-Serra, the director of Neeson’s latest actioner, Non-Stop. Despite a resolution that makes the mystery that came before it that much dumber, the film delivers top-notch action, giving us exactly what we’ve come to expect from the collaboration that gave us Unknown last year. At the very least, Non-Stop’s premise and the fury from some solid moments of suspense keep it from being just another forgettable entry on Neeson's action resumé.
This time around, Neeson - who seems to have graduated from the same Scowl and Grumble Academy Harrison Ford apparently attended - plays Bill Marks, a U.S. federal air marshal who we first see sitting in his car in an airport parking lot stirring alcohol into a coffee cup with a toothbrush. Clearly this guy is fighting some demons, some of which seem to just go with this territory. Those genre-familiar demons quickly come into play after Marks has boarded his latest assigned flight. He begins receiving text messages from someone claiming to be on the plane, and if $150-million isn’t deposited into a certain bank account, this mysterious someone will kill someone on the plane. 20 minutes after that, they’ll kill someone else and so on until the money does arrive.
It’s a fairly simple premise and one that Non-Stop takes its time getting around to. The screenwriters behind the film and Collet-Serra take care in setting up the supporting players just as any good mystery should do. The character actors filling those roles help immensely with people like Scoot McNairy, Anson Mount, Linus Roache, and Cory Stoll adding a nice recognition to those suspects. Even Julianne Moore as Marks’ seatmate bounces back and forth between playing Nancy Drew and serving as another of Marks’s suspects. The opening calm does the film wonders in the way it prepares you for the forthcoming intensity. Thankfully, when that intensity hits, it’s Collet-Serra directing it and Neeson making those hits spot-on.
As the tension mounts on the plane with Marks continually racing against the clock, it is discovered that the murderer’s bank account is in the marshal’s name. To the world outside the mid-air flight, Marks is considered a terrorist, accused on the ground of hijacking the very plane he is trying to save. This adds an interesting element to the story but not one that ever leads to much suspense, at least not in the eyes of the viewer and definitely not in any way that casts doubt on the protagonist. Non-Stop takes the time in developing the gray area of its lead character, but any notion that he may, in fact, turn out to be behind it all never takes on any real form.
Instead the film lets Neeson’s fists do the talking, and while the mystery on board the plane never rises up past a certain level, the action on board that same plane is quite impressive. That’s nothing new for Collet-Serra, who, like Neeson, knows how to get the job done when it comes to execution. Their last outing together, Unknown, was immediately forgettable, but the film did boast some impressive action sequences. The same can and will be said for Non-Stop, which utilizes the closed spaces and claustrophobia of action on an airplane to its advantage. One particular fight scene in an airplane bathroom is a definite highpoint.
The director isn't ready to roll with casual in his films. Just like Unknown before it - and House of Wax and Orphan before that even - Non-Stop's crowning victory comes with how cool, atmospheric, and totally apt the camera work is. Collet-Serra and cinematographer Flavio Martinez Labiano pull off some impressive magic floating the camera up and down the aisles and rows of the plane, always capturing exactly what they're aiming at but still nailing that claustrophobic sense that the walls are just off the edge of the frame. That is to say nothing of the ridiculous-but-awesome stunt work they pull off in those confined quarters.
And "ridiculous-but-awesome" may be as appropriate a word to describe Non-Stop as "Non-Stop" is as its title. With all the amazing action work going on in the foreground, you almost lose the idea that this film is supposed to be a mystery-thriller. When those moments come that Non-Stop has to move its plot forward or explain something about its plot, the loose threads start coming out of the fabric at an uncontrollable rate. If you stop and think about any of them for even a second, the whole thing falls to shambles. On repeat viewings, the story in Non-Stop might hold together better than initially thought, but I doubt it.
As if it really even matters, though. Like the squirrel-infatuated dogs in Up, Non-Stop distracts its audience from any absurdity the plot may throw at it with some seriously eye-opening entertainment. It's setup is far more rewarding than its payoff. The big reveal - no spoilers - is almost as laughable as it is anticlimactic. Don't expect to be hit with a hard-edged mystery that blows your mind with Non-Stop. Instead, expect what the ads are selling. Liam Neeson kicking ass and looking amazing doing it. He knows that's all he needs to do. It's time audiences realized that as well.
Jeremy's Rating: 7 out of 10
Follow Jeremy on Twitter - @JeremyKKirk