When Liam Neeson entered the action star portion of his acting career, my reaction was, “Yes, of course.” Actually, I may not really have had any reaction at all because the one-man army role suited him so well that I hardly noticed any difference. This is partly a way of getting at the fact that Neeson’s action stardom has been more successful than the actual movies have been. He made Taken work as well as it did by sheer force of will, but I found that movie to be too distressing and overly tidy to be able to embrace it completely. His subsequent lone hero actioners have for the most part been variations on Taken. No doubt about it, Non-Stop is Taken on a Plane, but I preferred it to the kidnapping thriller because it was just so insane that I might have had to lose my mind, and I was happy to.
(GENERALLY SPOILER-ISH INFORMATION FROM HERE ON OUT, BECAUSE I FEEL THE NEED TO TALK ABOUT THIS MOVIE IN SPECIFIC TERMS.) Non-Stop is filled with improbabilities right from the get-go. Neeson plays Bill Marks, a federal air marshal who has turned to the bottle to deal with his daughter’s death. The fact that Marks still gets assigned jobs despite obviously being affected by his drinking and the cause of his alcoholism being overly pat strain credulity, but it is actually purposeful to the narrative that his competence is suspect and that information about his troubles could be public knowledge. Anyway, though, Non-Stop gets away with most or all its implausibility by being upfront about it. A movie that crosses a classic mad-villain extortion scheme with a cat-and-mouse game at 30,000 feet is not aiming for everyday verisimilitude.
In addition to reveling in its absurdity, Non-Stop excels in its suspense by establishing just about every character as a legitimate suspect. Julianne Moore, as Marks’ seat neighbor, is overly talkative. Scoot McNairy, who excels at playing slimy (check him out getting into deep shit in Killing Them Softly) plays a punk who is rather inquisitive about what plane Marks will be getting on. Certain traps and killing maneuvers suggest action in areas of the plane that only the pilots and flight attendants would have access to. A second marshal is the only other one who should be on the cellular network that Marks is receiving the threatening texts from. Corey Stoll is an overly aggressive New York City cop who questions why Marks doesn’t give the Muslim passenger as thorough a shakedown as he gives everyone else. This seems like a typical moment playing on post-9/11 paranoia, but it may actually be a matter of class or profession bias, as Marks may have overlooked him because he is a doctor.
(THINGS GET EVEN MORE SPOILERY IN THIS PARAGRAPH.) The nature of the manhunt suddenly changes in the final act when it is revealed that the killings are not just going to be those happening one by one every 20 minutes due to the revelation of a bomb, which had earlier been disguised by cocaine. This new crisis prompts Marks, who has been backed into a corner by passengers suspicious of him, to reveal everything about his previously secretive investigation. This sequence sets quite a benchmark for excitement that the rest of the 2014 film slate will have a tough time matching.
If you are worried that too many twists and turns have been spoiled by the promotion of this movie, don’t be. While the trailer does include a fair amount of footage from the final act – and, admittedly, does feature as its centerpiece the most memorable shot of a pivotal struggle – there is actually a fair amount of misdirection. The first death in particular does not go down exactly as the previews would lead you to believe.
Non-Stop falters a little bit with its ending, as the motivation for the extortion is revealed – it tries to be straightforward, which is difficult amidst all the insanity. I did not have a problem with the spirit of the motivation itself, or how it went about being explained, so much as the fact that it was a bit too simplistic. Still, that does not take away from all the highly pressurized excitement that precedes it. A-
Jeff Malone is a voracious entertainment consumer and entertainment creator. He currently resides in New York City, where he is working on a Master’s in Media Studies at The New School. In addition to his pieces on TMRzoo.com, you can check out his blog (jmunney.wordpress.com), where he provides regular coverage of Community and Saturday Night Live, as well as other television, film, music, and the rest of pop culture.