Directed by: Jaume Collet-Serra (Orphan)
Starring: Liam Neeson, Julianne Moore, Scoot McNairy, Michelle Dockery, Nate Parker
Liam Neeson has revived his career playing gruff, humorless, seemingly constipated action roles — and his turn in Jaume Collet-Serra’s Non-Stop is the best of the bunch. This isn’t saying much, since we’re really just comparing it to movies like the goofy Taken series and Joe Carnahan’s pretentious The Grey (2011). Still, this is something of an accomplishment, since the movie is taxed with Neeson’s characteristic serious, lurching, stone-faced performance. The plot certainly doesn’t hold up to any real scrutiny, but — despite eventually unravelling during its climax — the movie rarely slows down enough to let the audience focus on its myriad contrivances and preposterous twists. It works from moment to moment, but that’s all it aims to do.
Neeson stars as U.S. Air Marshall Bill Marks. Of course, he’s not just any old Air Marshall — he’s an Air Marshall with a past, an alcohol problem and a cigarette habit. After boarding an international flight to London, he receives a series of anonymous text messages that threaten to kill one passenger every 20 minutes unless $150 million is deposited into a bank account. This starts to happen pretty quickly, as Bill runs around trying to solve the mystery, save this plane full of passengers and clear his name, since the mastermind behind all this is intent on framing him as a hijacker.
The film plays on a lot of general fears and paranoias — fear of heights, unwarranted xenophobia — but uses most of this to create noise and distract viewers from figuring out the ultimate outcome, which is constantly twisting and turning on itself. Non-Stop is thankfully not a very predictable movie, but it is by nature a fairly chaotic one that doesn’t make much sense and is insistent on eating its own tail. Little of it, in retrospect, is plausible, but all this clatter works for a movie that simply wants to be thrilling. The ultimate solution is on the absurd side, and the subsequent resolution stretches credulity, veering into the world of goofy mawkishness. It hardly matters, since this isn’t a movie that wants to be taken seriously in the first place. Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of action and violence, some language, sensuality and drug references.
Playing at Carolina Cinemas, Epic of Hendersonville, Regal Biltmore Grande, United Artists Beaucatcher.