Liam Neeson has become one of the top action stars of the 21st Century. With the “Taken” and “Titans” franchises, along with about a dozen other action/mystery/thriller hits (including the voice of the Good Cop/Bad Cop in “The LEGO Movie”), Neeson is someone we always root for as he attempts to save the day and be the hero. And his latest role is no exception.
After seeing the enticing trailer for “Non-Stop” several months ago, I was immediately hooked by its unique premise. Neeson plays US Air Marshal Bill Marks who receives threatening messages from an anonymous person during a flight from New York to London. The texter claims to be a passenger, and writes that he’ll kill someone on the plane every 20 minutes unless $150 million is transferred to a special account. And even though, at times, everyone else on the plane (and in the audience) is led to believe differently, Marks makes it very clear: “I’m not hijacking the plane! (dramatic pause) I’m trying to save it!”
But are we sure? Director Jaume Collet-Serra (re-teaming with Neeson following 2011’s guilty pleasure, “Unknown”) provides plenty of suspicious close-ups to get us to think the bad guy (or gal) could be at least a dozen different passengers. Neeson’s Marks has the badge and the gun, and also tons of baggage. And all of this is taking place 35,000 feet in the air. No wonder this was my most anticipated early release of the year.
So, I sat back, relaxed and enjoyed what is a pretty good trip. “Non-Stop” is not extraordinary, or even great, but it does exactly what it’s designed to do: lock you in and keep you glued and guessing to the end. And it also makes that next plane flight you take a little more uncomfortable.
A trio of writers are credited for the complex script that goes in several different directions, often at the same time. “Non-Stop” fulfills the action/suspense genre requirements: surprises, twists, false alarms…and adequate acting. There’s also a little social commentary on the airline industry and the current state of airline security, including a sharp series of sequences early on depicting every category of flyer there is. And the film does have a few things in common with 2012’s “Flight” (though it doesn’t reach the level of Denzel Washington’s insanely cool upside-down landing sequence).
“Non-Stop”‘s early “edge of your seat” excitement level gives way to more of a mystery feel in the second half. However, keeping us on course the entire time is Neeson. Not only does he give a truly believable performance, as either a flawed good guy or evil bad guy, but he also keeps potentially corny and predictable scenes from going in that direction.
Julianne Moore co-stars as a mysterious passenger who, like everyone else, could be the killer. But she’s a bit miscast – too much of a big name to square-off with Neeson in key moments. A lesser-known actress would have worked better in the role. Michelle Dockery (“Downton Abbey”) and Lupita Nyong’o (“12 Years a Slave”) play the two main flight attendants. And we all know that flight attendants could never do anything evil. Or could they? The visual effects (vital in the climactic final minutes) aren’t spectacular, but work well enough that they’re not a complete distraction.
“Non-Stop” is rated PG-13 for some intense action/violence, language, and a whole lot of peril. It’s a solid thrill ride, with a few bumpy patches, that delivers what it promises.
On The Official LCJ Report Card, “Non-Stop” gets a B. For a film that takes place almost entirely up in the air, it’s pretty grounded.