Review by Derrick Carter
Running Time: 1 hour 47 minutes
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for Intense Sequences of Action and Violence, Some Language, Sensuality and Drug References
Directed by: Jaume Collet-Serra
Written by: John W. Richardson, Chris Roach & Ryan Engle
Starring: Liam Neeson, Julianne Moore, Michelle Dockery, Nate Parker, Linus Roache, Scoot McNairy, Corey Stoll & Shea Whigham
When he’s not rescuing his family from Albanians (twice), violently retrieving his stolen identity, or punching wolves in the face, Liam Neeson takes on the demanding position of air marshal. NON-STOP is the latest in Neeson’s slate of being a badass. The film also turns into a product that feels like an Arnold Schwarzenegger or Jean-Claude Van Damme vehicle from the 80’s. There is also a bit of an identity crisis happening, because the film isn’t this way for its entirety. In fact, there’s a pretty awesome thriller nestled somewhere within the confines of NON-STOP. It is in the conclusion that things get so wildly over-the-top and downright silly that it almost drags the whole movie down.
Bill Marks, an alcoholic air marshal, boards a long international flight. This is seemingly just like any other day at work. This changes as he’s airborne and a stranger issues a threat through the secure network on Bill’s phone. This anonymous unseen person is threatening to kill a passenger every 20 minutes unless 150 million is transferred into an off-shore account. Naturally, every crew member on the flight (with the exception of Bill) takes these text messages as an elaborate prank…until the devious killer shows that he or she is very serious. Through complex chain-of-events people begin biting it in horrible ways and it’s up to Bill to put a stop to it. The complicated situation gets even more dire when everybody on the ground suspects that the lone air marshal (trying to save the passengers) is actually hijacking the plane.
NON-STOP starts off with such promise. The idea of a criminal mastermind executing an elaborate plot on a plane is nothing new. It’s been seen in FLIGHTPLAN (another underwhelming would-be thriller), RED EYE (which started off decently enough, but got really stupid in the final act), and TURBULENCE (the less said about that one, the better). My point is that there may be a good movie in the weirdly specific psycho on a plane subgenre, but I have yet to see it. NON-STOP is not that film. Carrying a strong amount of tension and a long list of possible suspects, the script keeps the viewer on the edge of their seat for a majority of the runtime. Just when things should be at the height (no pun intended) of the craziness, the film goes so far over-the-top and ludicrous that it becomes laughable in almost every aspect.
As far as characters go, there are a few interesting ones on board the flight and I appreciated some conventions being thrown out the window (e.g. a Muslim character helps Neeson’s protagonist greatly). However, the motivation of the attacker is very preachy. It’s one thing to throw in a little food for thought in some underlying themes of a movie and it’s quite another to shove a political statement down the viewer’s throat. NON-STOP’s conclusion (including a lengthy monologue from the villain) is frustrating and brings the film down significantly. It doesn’t really need to be said that Liam Neeson doesn’t play characters. Liam Neeson plays Liam Neeson. In this film though, Neeson seems tired and exhausted from doing this sort of badass role so many times before. There isn’t a whole lot of action until the finale either and that’s where things made me roll my eyes.
One might expect that Julianne Moore would at least put in a somewhat watchable performance, but she’s terrible. Her character isn’t convincing and she seems to be struggling with how to deliver her lines in every scene she appears in. To make matters worse, the film suffers from what I’ll call “RETURN OF THE KING syndrome.” Meaning that all the side characters are shown to have an ending. We can’t merely focus on the main two, we get whole concluding moments dedicated to nearly every solitary figure who had a line of dialogue. There’s also a pointless speech made on Neeson’s part that was clichéd beyond belief and served no real purpose to the film at all. It’s timing was also pretty friggin’ hilarious (I won’t dive into specifics as to not spoil anything major).
I wish I could say that the film was decent enough, but that final act really derails so many things in so many different ways. This went from being a suspenseful thriller into cheesy 80’s action territory and that didn’t belong with what was being constructed for the first two-thirds. Liam Neeson seems to be playing the exact same role we’ve seen in his past action films. Julianne Moore ranges from wooden to confused to indescribably bad. The motivation becomes a preachy monologue that probably reflects the thoughts of the screenwriters on a certain issue and the movie devolves into a cheese-fest that might have been more at home in the 80’s, rather than attempting to be a nail-biting thriller in this day and age. This is one flight that should have never left the ground.