No one working in cinema today is quite as good as being that one man going up against the world as Liam Neeson. Neeson makes his bacon being a bada**, and why shouldn’t he? He’s got a cool accent, a well and often used tough guy face and throaty growl that was made for making threats. Remember when he said, “Release the kraken!” in the less-than-stellar 2010 reboot of “Clash of the Titans”? Of course you do: It. Was. Awesome. And who could forget “Taken” the movie so full of Neeson beatdowns and snarling that it spawned a hugely popular meme? (Not to worry if you did though, this nifty little video has nearly three minutes of “Taken” footage featuring Neeson cracking skulls).
In short, the man in the reigning king of what he does. Jason Statham and the cast of “The Expendables” have had their moments, but since 2008 no action star has been a more consistent source of “you messed with the wrong guy” hell-bent action hero flicks. With “Non-Stop” we’ve essentially been given “Taken”...on a plane. Knowing that, no one can reasonably expect to see the next “Citizen Kane”. So the question becomes, will the audience be taken in by “Non-Stop,” when it hits theaters on Feb. 28?
As tired as the whole Liam Neeson as a bad dad/spouse pitted against the world to save the day and redeem himself trajectory is (and it really is), there is a certain undeniable joy that comes from watching the man in his element. As Bill Marks (note that his name in “Taken” was Bryan Mills) Neeson is weary air marshal who hits the bottle a little too often and is full of regret about his mistakes as a person and a parent. While on a transatlantic flight he begins to receive a series of text messages from one of his passengers threatening to kill someone on the flight every 20 minutes, unless someone coughs up $150 million dollars to stop the threat from becoming a reality.
Confined to such a small space of action and trying not to incite panic raises some legitimate concerns about how much action we can really expect, and while the texting element does slow things down a bit and resign our hero to scowling for a while, it also allows some of the other characters to get involved--and that’s a very good thing, because one of the smartest things the team behind “Non-Stop” did was bring in some great talent to bounce of of Neeson and prevent the movie from being nothing more than a slug-fest in the aisles.
Julianne Moore works her way into the equation as a frequent-flier who winds up seated next to the air marshal, and as a result recruited to help find the culprit as one of only two people Marks deems above suspicion. The other is a flight attendant named Nancy brought to life by Michelle Dockery , a.k.a. the delightful albeit somewhat snobbish Lady Mary of “Downton Abbey”.
The pair of them balance out his brashness with intellect, wit and thankfully, normal human responses. Dockery’s face often transmits the reaction most of us would have if suddenly tasked with playing sidekick to a growly air marshal, and that grounds the narrative in reality, if ever so slightly. And “Downton” fans don’t despair, Dockery sheds her Edwardian accent, but she does work in a couple of great withering glares. Meanwhile, a bespectacled Moore is nosey and just suspicious enough to give pause as to her motivations--the reveal of the baddies is telegraphed pretty plainly, but at least the movie functions in such a way as to let the audience go through the motions of detection with Neeson.
Rounding out the cast are Corey Stoll (“House of Cards”) Scoot McNairy, Nate Parker and Lupita Nyong’o who may well take home an Oscar for her turn in “12 Years a Slave” during her second feature film’s opening weekend.
“Non-Stop” isn’t a masterpiece or a cinematic marvel, but when the action ramps up it does deliver that trademark Neeson-fueled blend of intensity and action so over the top that you can’t help but to laugh and cheer for the heroics. It also doesn’t hurt that this time out Neeson got a stable of talent to dive into the the plot and play around with him.
If Neeson must make the same movie non-stop, at least he’s got it down to an art.