Non-Stop Directed by: Jaume Collet-Sera Cast: Liam Neeson, Julianne Moore, Michelle Dockery, Corey Stoll, Lupita Nyong'o Running Time: 1 hr 46 mins Rating: PG-13 Release Date: February 28, 2014
PLOT: When a disheveled air marshal (Neeson) begins to aggressively investigate a possible hijacking, a plane's passengers suspect him and his motives.
WHO'S IT FOR? Neeson fans, get in line. It's not Taken, but it has the Neeson machismo that still makes for decent mainstream entertainment.
Six years later, the momentum of Liam Neeson 2.0, post-Taken, continues to be a very real thing. In his latest feat, he shows the ability to make yet another imperfect bag of plot pretzels work in his favor, while offering some spiky post-9/11 commentary.
Like his character from Taken, this Neeson being has emotional scars from failure as a father. And like Unknown, his previous collaboration with Non-Stop director Jaume Collet-Sera, he desperately struggles to prove his identity to a dearth of non-believers. But while this may be a "Choose Your Own Liam Neeson" (instead of a "Choose Your Own Adventure"), he gives the role a comfortable ease. Playing an emotionally vulnerable man helplessly trying to do his job, he makes for a strong underdog, especially when we all believe in what he can accomplish at the drop of a gun.
In a role that could have easily been disposed of, Julianne Moore provides a bit of character to two scenes especially, where she plays off of Neeson. In a film that says in the beginning that "flying can be quite fun!" Moore shares a different interpretation of flight experience. In a small way, she is able to become an underdog with Neeson as well, despite her sideline involvement in the movie's plane shenanigans.
Non-Stop has some unwelcome cargo in the heavy hands of its script, an aspect that reduces the script's potential almost immediately. In the beginning, it's the obvious plotting, where every piece of information given on-screen feels significant, and then later turns out to be. And then in the finale, while its original plot of questioning air marshal authority makes for a very interesting discussion with the film's audience, it then turns such talk into a sermon. Without spoiling, it all just comes off a bit self-righteous, while further hammering in the film's extremely post-9/11 consciousness. Could we have not deduced that from its moments of anti-Muslim racism, the involvement of a hotheaded non-PC New York cop, or Julianne Moore joking about saying the word "bomb" on a plane?
Thankfully, Non-Stop is more crafty than it is contrived, its story directions shifting enough so that our questions aren't able to get ahead of the events onscreen. As the film focuses its slow burning mystery on Neeson's air marshal integrity, it does put him a few surprising binds. These especially are moments where his special Neeson-level of endearment keeps us from laughing at him, as he fumbles around an airliner to prove he's not crazy. In a similar positive remark, we can accept that he doesn't understand that deleting texts is a very easy thing to do.
Like Unknown, Collet-Sera has another script that really needs a vision, and aesthetically he can make the energy of this mystery a gripping component. When Neeson is stirring up a crisis on the plane, the camera zips up and down aisles, and over some chairs. The claustrophobic elements come alive. And while we don't really fear what's going to happen, but we want our hero to do well. Even when Neeson is typing perfect text messages within an elemental script, this is a compact thriller with an cool, unsettling air.
FINAL SCORE: 6/10