Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Non-Stop


Grade: 47/C+

Three years ago, Liam Neeson starred in Unknown, a Jaume Collet-Serra thriller that was reasonably diverting for 80 minutes and stupid in the home run. This year, Neeson stars in Non-Stop, a Jaume Collet-Serra thriller that’s reasonably diverting for 80 minutes and stupid in the home run. Perhaps you see a pattern here.

Neeson stars as Bill Marks, an air marshal with an alcohol problem and a haunted past (which viewers should be able to guess within the first two minutes). Marks receives a text on his secure phone saying that a passenger will be killed every twenty minutes if Marks doesn’t get $150 million in a secure account. Marks works fast and tries to search and round up passengers, but people start dying while the other passengers get paranoid. And there’s another problem: the account number is in his name, and his behavior gives certain passengers the suspicion that he’s hijacking the plane.

Given the scripts usually offered to action stars, it’s a given that Neeson, currently in the middle of a late-career renaissance as Liam Punch-a-Lot Neeson, would star in some dumb projects. The least one can say for Non-Stop is that it keeps the viewer guessing for a while. It’s directed ably, if not spectacularly, by Collet-Serra, and it features a number of talented actors in supporting roles: Julianne Moore as the only passenger who believes Neeson, Corey Stoll as an NYPD officer who suspects Neeson is up to something, Michelle Dockery and Lupita Nyong’o as flight attendants, Scoot McNairy as a nervous schoolteacher, and Nate Parker as an obnoxious programmer.

The roster of guest stars at least makes the culprit’s identity less obvious (although one of the actors is badly wasted). Neeson, for his part, still brings the gravitas that separates him from other action stars. But there’s very little to distinguish Non-Stop: every action scene is handled in a post-Bourne fashion, every camera flourish feels needlessly distracting, and every attempt to humanize Neeson’s gruff hero feels telegraphed from a mile away. When the villain is finally revealed and he/she gives his/her Bond villain speech, it’s hilariously moronic and arbitrary, as if screenwriters John W. Richardson, Chris Roach, and Ryan Engle threw darts at a board to decide how to end their movie.  As a rainy-day cable diversion, Non-Stop is serviceable. As something that’ll stick with a viewer…wait, what was I talking about again?

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