Liam Neeson has never been more likeable, or effective in an action movie, than he is in Non-Stop (opening today). The hokey premise actually ends up being pretty cool, twisting and turning enough to engage us from the very beginning. But the absurdity builds until it finally crushes the film's believability under its weight.
Neeson is U.S. Air Marshal Bill Marks, who we first meet brushing his teeth with whiskey inside a vehicle at an airport. A good start if there ever was one. We see him disheveled, arguing with an unheard, unknown superior on his cell phone. He is about to board a non-stop flight from New York to London and as he approaches the gate, the camera shows us several other individuals that we suspect will become important down the road.
Once on board, he is befriended by the woman sitting next to him (Julianne Moore). In mid-flight however, Marks begins getting a series of untraceable text messages on his phone. Somebody is demanding that Marks have the federal government wire 150 million to an off-short account, or a person on his very flight will die every 20 minutes.
The threat doesn't become real, until the first 20 minutes is up and there is indeed a dead body on the plane. How and why this person died is not only unexpected, but it opens up the doors to a larger mystery.
The first half of the film is a classic who-dunnit. We are shown several people and are left to draw our own conclusions as to their threat level. The film smartly plays on our assumptions.
But after a good hour or so of Non-Stop being a tense thriller, it just stops making sense. By the end, it's a crazy, over-the-top whirlwind of action, so bat-sh** unbelievable that it was nearly laughable. But I have to admit, this was an incredibly fun ride and there was never a dull moment.
I was reminded of the 2002 Joel Schumacher film, Phone Booth, with the unknown antagonist putting our hero through a series of crazy predicaments, requiring him to outsmart the villain at every turn. Neeson does great work here and is surrounded by an ensemble that adds to the experience. The script by first-time feature-film screenwriters John Richardson, Christopher Roach and Ryan Engle contains a great blend of humor and manages to find a very entertaining tone throughout.
There was a chance that Non-Stop could have been a great thriller, but too many absurdities diluted its overall effectiveness. Much happens that I won't go into here, to avoid spoiling the fun. Even still, this is not the campy Snakes on a Plane, but rather a film that I believe most will find enjoyable, if not exceptional.
Genre: Action, Mystery, Thriller
Run Time: 1 hour, 46 minutes, Rated PG-13
Starring: Liam Neeson, Julianne Moore, Scoot McNairy, Michelle Dockery, Lupita Nyong'o, Shea Whigham
Directed by Jaume Collet-Serra (House of Wax, Orphan, Unknown)
Opens locally on Friday, Feb 28, 2014 (check for show times).
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How to read Tom Santilli's "Star Ratings:"
- 5 Stars: Exceptional, must-see movie
- 4 Stars: Very good movie, not without flaws
- 3 Stars: The movie was just OK, leaves a lot to be desired
- 2 Stars: Pretty bad, a let-down, disappointing, but with some redeeming qualities
- 1 Star: Awful, sloppy, a total waste of time