What is it? Non-Stop is one of Liam Neeson's late-career action vehicles (as "the modern Charles Bronson," think Taken, Unknown, and The Grey) where he plays another gravelly, troubled hero with a very particular set of skills, this time hunting a killer on a plane.
The pitch: on a commercial flight to London, a federal air marshal (Neeson) receives a series of mysterious text messages from someone threatening to kill a passenger every 20 minutes unless a $150 million ransom is met.
Dramatic questions: Who sent these texts? How could they possibly commit murder on a crowded airplane without getting caught? Why is this happening — and why is it really happening?
Who's in it? Besides Neeson, there's Julianne Moore as the suspicious passenger seated next to him. Michelle Dockery (better known as Lady Mary from Downton Abbey) plays a flight attendant along with Lupita Nyong'o (Patsey from 12 Years a Slave, although Nyong'o hardly says anything at all). Other passengers include Scoot McNairy from Argo and Corey Stoll from House of Cards.
Who made it? Jaume Collet-Serra directed; he worked with Neeson in 2011's Unknown and helmed another Neeson action vehicle, Run All Night, slated for this time next year. Three newcomers wrote the script. Universal is the US distributor.
Content advisory: rated PG-13 for "intense sequences of action and violence, some language, sensuality and drug references." There's a lot of punching and shooting, some furtive sips of liquor, smoking in the lavatory (a federal offense!), and a surprise cameo by a bag of cocaine.
How will it perform? Non-Stop is likely to open #1 at the box office, finally toppling The LEGO Movie after three weeks of dominance. With a wide 3,090-screen run and smart, aggressive marketing campaign, it wouldn't be surprising if the film opened north of $25 million. (This would buck a slight downward trend in Neeson's ability to open a movie: Taken, Unknown, and The Grey opened to $24.7 million, $21.9 million, and $19.7 million, respectively.) The film also received an 'A-' CinemaScore rating, so with positive word-of-mouth, it might have some staying power.
Did the critics like it? For the most part, sure. As of this writing, the film has a 56% score on Metacritic, 58% on Rotten Tomatoes — and while those numbers are surely tepid, they're not bad within the disreputable genre of serviceable action films. Most reviews cite Neeson is the film's greatest asset, with nods to the fast, efficient set-up in the first act and some shrewd directorial choices by Collet-Serra. But the plot gets increasingly implausible with every twist, and the final act goes so far, it alienated nearly every critic.
Pullquote: Drew Taylor, The Playlist: "You are always acutely aware where [Liam Neeson] is and what his relation is to the other characters. In the era of shaky cam and action sequences that are endlessly chopped into indistinguishable visual confetti, this can't be overstated enough ... Collet-Serra is the real deal: an action filmmaker whose stylization never gets in the way of his storytelling abilities."
Second opinion: Keith Uhlich, Time Out: "The setup is dynamite and the follow-through entertainingly dumb, as long as the film keeps the unseen villain and his/her motivations in the dark... Would that the climax lived up to the tension-filled first two thirds. Let’s just say that Non-Stop reaches for some pointed post-9/11 political commentary that almost entirely exceeds its grasp. Total brainlessness, in this case, would have been a virtue."
Smartest take: Ignatiy Vishnevetsky, AV Club: "Crucial to the movie is the contrast between the way in which [Liam Neeson] conforms to an image of scowling leadership, and his lack of efficacy. He makes critical mistakes and lies about them to the passengers and crew. He conducts searches that lead nowhere. His alcoholism is an open secret in the service. Simply put, he’s a fuck-up who inspires confidence only because he looks and sounds exactly like Liam Neeson... Counterintuitive as they may seem, transparency, a willingness to be criticized, and a basic level of trust in everyone—despite knowing that one of them has to be the bad guy—end up winning the day."
So who should see this movie? Action fans looking for thrills who don't want to think too hard and can overlook the occasional clunky speech of exposition.
Come for: Taken on a plane!
Stay for: the woefully underused ensemble of talented side characters, the thrill of the whodunit (while it lasts), and to see Liam Neeson carry the whole thing for 106 minutes.
Final litmus test: the last shot in the trailer, where Neeson grabs a gun out of mid-air in what appears to be a terminal-velocity free fall. If you can roll with that, Non-Stop can be a great ride.