Luckily for director Jaume Collet-Serra, the riskily titled “Non-Stop” does indeed deliver a nearly constant influx of thrills, thanks to a craftily written mystery reinforced by actor Liam Neeson’s believable tough guy performance. Similar in set-up to 1996’s “Executive Decision,” the majority of the fun comes from the snaking plot that delivers red herrings and misdirection aplenty. Conspiracies, terrorists, drugs, extortion, murder, and more all weave throughout the story and its host of enigmatic characters as they spiral towards a mostly unpredictable conclusion. Clichés aren’t absent, but enough suspense and adventure surround the escalating hunt for answers to quell the brunt of questions raised regarding plausibility and realism - until after the picture ends.
Despondent, alcoholic air marshal William Marks (Liam Neeson) just wants to get his latest assignment over with. But his routine mission aboard a transatlantic flight to London becomes a race against time when he begins receiving threatening text messages from an unknown source. Demanding $150 million in exchange for the lives of the 150 passengers, the cryptic assailant begins killing one commuter every twenty minutes until the money is transferred. As the seconds rapidly count down to the next execution, Marks must ally with a flight attendant (Michelle Dockery), a New York cop (Corey Stoll), and a secretive woman (Julianne Moore) in order to find the terrorist and save the passengers from certain death.
Liam Neeson has a way of convincing audiences of just about anything. Even in his early sixties he can still believably pull off martial arts in claustrophobic spaces, mastermind desperate attempts at gaining information for the harrowing situations his ex-military or ex-law enforcement characters inevitably become immersed in, calm hysterical and accidental participants, and can even get the girl. Here, Julianne Moore is a surprisingly age-appropriate romantic counterpart. Neeson may not have youth, but he has strong conviction, determination, and genuineness. He may not be an intrinsically over-the-top action hero, but he’s definitely a sensible, likeable protagonist for adventurous psychological thrillers.
Movies involving hijackings aren’t new, but a terrorist situation in the air is undeniably topical and resonating. Here, the setup brilliantly ensures that everyone is a suspect, that every individual momentarily examined by the camera is a potential for danger (ranging from a racially profiled doctor, played by Omar Metwally, to a coquettish sexpot, played by Bar Paly). Unavoidable advertising and trailers have helped to synopsize the subject matter. This makes the educated viewer immediately begin studying passengers and bystanders with an interrogative eye, much like Neeson’s Bill Marks, even before its revealed that he’s a U.S. Federal Air Marshal.
Like “Speed,” a small timeframe is given (a 6-hour flight) and an isolated environment is utilized (the British Aqualantic airliner); like “Ten Little Indians” or “And Then There Were None,” players are eliminated one by one until the ringleader is exposed. And like countless other thrillers, the anticipation and suspense are built up so exhilaratingly, the final unveiling is given all the weight of the potential success or failure of the picture as a whole. The conclusion almost single-handedly determines whether or not “Non-Stop” will be adored or abhorred. Admittedly a touch oblivious to atmospheric pressure, thermodynamics and other physics, and extreme inertia, “Non-Stop” capably manages not to succumb to a disappointing finale.
- The Massie Twins (GoneWithTheTwins.com)