2014, 106mins, 12
Director: Jaume Collet-Serra
Writer (s): John W. Richardson, Christopher Roach, Ryan Engle
Cast includes: Liam Neeson, Julianne Moore, Scoot McNairy, Corey Stoll, Michelle Dockery
UK Release Date: 28th February 2014
I've met alcoholics from Ballymena, and they’re not traditionally the sort to come in handy during an international terrorist threat. They’re phenomenal at occupying an adjacent barstool and slurring an assortment of politically incorrect anecdotes; but resourceful men of action? Not really. Still, accepting one of these jovial inebriates as a hero is the least demanding act of suspension “Non-Stop” requests of its audience, the film barrelling from one outlandish scenario to the next. It’s a preposterous helping of genre cheese, but with Liam Neeson in the lead and energy levels cranked up to a roar, director Jaume Collet-Serra just about lurches proceedings over the finish line before the unending silliness becomes all-consuming.
Air Marshall Bill Marks (Liam Neeson) isn’t the loquacious type; in fact he’s struggling through his professional obligations in a booze hazed depression. Boarding a flight to London, Bill doesn't envisage anything too rigorous, but before long starts to receive ominous messages from an unknown passenger. Bill quickly alerts the crew and requests the help of conscientious cabin-buddy Jen (a crafty Julianne Moore) in trying to unearth the prankster’s identity, but things turn sour when the threat proves genuine. Bodies start amassing, the villain demanding $150 million to halt his massacring of the unwitting airline customers. What’s more, he’s framing Bill for the chaos, meaning that any co-operation from his superiors becomes increasingly hard to coerce.
“Non-Stop” marks the second collaboration between Neeson and Collet-Serra, their prior endeavour being 2011’s drab “Unknown”. “Non-Stop” has the advantage for two critical reasons; firstly that it takes itself much less seriously and secondly that the narrative cracks forward with such momentum it becomes unrewarding to overthink some of the movie’s glaring gaps in logic. It’s an utterly disposable thriller, but Collet-Serra proves adept at using the claustrophobic setting to unnerving effect and the script has enough probable red-herrings to keep its secrets guarded. Of course having Neeson in the mix helps inordinately, his cranky demeanour and bulk continuing to serve him well in the genre. Neeson has a genuine everyman quality, and underlines Bill’s vulnerabilities succinctly with his performance. He’s believable as a butt-kicker, but also identifiable as a human being. It’s this combination that keeps viewers onside, and which has presumably allowed his career to flourish of late.
The script is riddled with an uneven intelligence, but the atmosphere is tense and that’s what counts. It’s pleasurable to sit back and try to solve the mystery, which when revealed proves suitably contrived and unremarkable. With “Non-Stop” the journey trumps destination, it’s both slickly assembled and keenly aware of its own limits, letting the moments of intrigue and suspicion dominate the more traditional action-beats; at least until the bullet and knife addled finale. Collet-Serra can’t resist imbuing the feature’s final throws with generous lashings of Michael Bay inspired aesthetic, and I’m pretty sure the science of the situation doesn’t entirely stack-up. That being said, whilst the antagonistic face we’re eventually presented with might disappoint, his motivations are at least interesting to observe in a mainstream Hollywood product. From a character standpoint the unmasking rings hollow, but the broader contexts of his purpose at least attract some level of thought.
“Non-Stop” is a goofy nuts and bolts exercise, but it’s never boring. It knows Neeson is the trump card and plays him judiciously, slapping on question marks and upholding a frantic tonality for good measure. I’m the first to admit when something is junky, but for cheap thrills this enterprise is refreshingly aware and likably game.
A Review by Daniel Kelly, 2014