Liam Neeson Can’t Bring ‘Non-Stop’ in On-Time

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HollywoodChicago.com Oscarman rating: 2.5/5.0
Rating: 2.5/5.0

I’m a sucker for a well-toasted slice of escapism that employs a singular setting to maximum impact. Liam Neeson trapped on a plane with a devious killer who’s trying to extort $150 million from him? Where do line up to buy a ticket? Seriously, this is the kind of Oscar counter-programming that I love this time of year—turn off your mind and take a trip with “Non-Stop”. And, for about 45 minutes, the journey was an enjoyable one. And then we started losing altitude, pardon the pun. By the manipulative end of the ride, “Non-Stop” had reached a destination that no one wants in their February escapism—forgettable.

Bill Marks (Neeson) is a troubled, alcoholic, US Air Marshall who is about to embark on the flight from Hell. Halfway over the Atlantic Ocean on a red-eye to London, Marks gets a text on a secure line. Wire $150 million to an account or someone will die in twenty minutes. How do you kill someone on a crowded plane? And who is playing games with him? How do they know secrets about him like the recent death of his daughter or his addiction to the drink?

Non-Stop
Non-Stop
Photo credit: Universal Pictures

The cast has a wonderfully-assembled crew and passenger list of suspects. Bill immediately trusts the lovely redhead (Julianne Moore) in the seat next to him since she was stationary and sleeping when the first texts came but maybe she knows something more? The flight attendants (Michelle Dockery & Lupita Nyong’o) have access that others would not. Ditto the pilots (Linus Roache & Jason Butler Harner). His fellow Marshall (Anson Mount) is mighty suspicious at first. Racial profiling points to Dr. Fahim Nasir (Omar Metwally). And, well, there are just a bunch of other recognizable suspects, including Corey Stoll, Scoot McNairy, and Nate Parker. Any one of them could be the person tormenting our poor hero.

Or it could all be in his head. I jokingly said to a colleague that it was a Tyler Durden situation and that Bill Marks wasn’t receiving any texts and then the narrative actually turns in that direction as “Non-Stop” becomes a thriller in which only one man knows the truth and can’t get anyone to believe him. His superior on the ground (a nice bit of voice work from the increasingly-excellent Shea Wigham) understandably thinks that Bill has lost his mind. $150 million?!? And how do you kill someone on a plane and not get caught? When Bill starts random searches of the passengers, even taping up the hands of one of them, the travelers begin to fear the worst, assuming they’re being hijacked. There are even references to 9/11 that are arguably in bad taste. Can Bill convince the crew, passengers, and people on the ground that he’s not the man responsible and stop those who are in time?

Non-Stop
Non-Stop
Photo credit: Universal Pictures

It’s not a bad premise at all—a modern riff on Agatha Christie with a “Die Hard on a…” chaser. I’m a sucker for a good one-setting mystery, having been raised devouring books like “Ten Little Indians” and “Murder on the Orient Express”. And director Jaume Collet-Serra really does do an admirable job of setting up his chess pieces, creating a robust list of suspects who could be the Hans Gruber of the piece. There’s also a nice sense of claustrophobia and space in the first half, as cinematographer Flavio Labiano (“Timecrimes,” “Unknown”) works in long, unbroken shots through the cabin, sometimes out a window and back in again. The layout of a film like “Non-Stop” is essential to its success and Labiano, Collet-Serra, and his team have made a technically skilled piece.

No, as is so often the case, the air starts seeping out of “Non-Stop” as the suspension of disbelief in John W. Richardson, Christopher Roach, and Ryan Engle’s script cracks under the pressure. About halfway through, you get that sinking feeling that the mystery you’ve been trying to deduce is not going to end in a satisfactory manner. And I won’t spoil the destination but “Non-Stop” makes no sense when you think back on it. The nefarious plan relies on tons of unpredictable behavior on Bill’s part, personal knowledge of his back story, and so much luck as to make it simply ridiculous.

It’s also tough to delineate between an extended cast that’s well-rounded and one full of wasted performers. Really, that’s all you could find for Lupita Nyong’o to do? Corey Stoll can’t get a better part than this? And Julianne Moore hasn’t been this under-utilized in years. Even Neeson starts to look like he’s rolling his eyes at the increasingly ridiculous script. He’s done his time. He’s earned the right to do paycheck parts in mediocre projects. Just know going in that this is one of them.

“Non-Stop” stars Liam Neeson, Julianne Moore, Michelle Dockery, Lupita Nyong’o, Scoot McNairy, Corey Stoll, Omar Metwally, Anson Mount, Linus Roache, Jason Butler Harner, and Nate Parker. It was directed Jaume Collet-Serra and will be released on February 28, 2014.

HollywoodChicago.com content director Brian Tallerico

By BRIAN TALLERICO
Content Director
HollywoodChicago.com
brian@hollywoodchicago.com

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