Directed by Jaume Collet-Serra
Now that the Oscars are over, we can get back to the disappointing new releases of March. Liam Neeson’s new high-flying whodunit, “Non-Stop,” never tries to be a first-class thriller – it’s happy to settle into coach. Director Jaume Collet-Serra (“Unknown”) knows what you like. As long as Neeson uses his fists and firearms a least a couple times, you’ll be happy. At the very least, I can report that he did deliver that.
Federal Air Marshal Bill Marks (Neeson) hates flying. He tells us that. The rest of his characterization – he’s an alcoholic and a father – are shown to us through what I call “Liam Neeson movie character development”…one continuous shot in the first scene where Marks pours whiskey into his coffee, then looks at a picture of his daughter. Clever, guys. Anyway, he’s taking another routine flight, a non-stop shot to London, when he gets a text on his secure air marshal network telling him that one person will die every 20 minutes until millions of dollars are wired to an account. How original.
Three screenwriters (yeah, it took that many to come up with this schlock) drum up the usual suspects – the seemingly innocent redhead, the black teen, the Muslim, and the racist cop – and they make the audience guess which one of these stereotypical caricatures is guilty. Who can be trusted? Is it all about money? Of course not. “Non-Stop” tries to get deep with a social message, but it falls flat. Still, this 30,000-feet-high game of Clue keeps you guessing until the end. Maybe you think you have it, but you probably don’t.
A decent cast may have saved “Non-Stop” from complete despair. Corey Stoll (“House of Cards”), Lupita Nyong’o (Oscar-winner for “12 Years a Slave”), and Julianne Moore (even though her character and her characterization annoyed me) give this action flick a little more gusto, but it was always going to be Liam and his signature snarl that made this work. You wait for an hour and a half to see him grab his gun in zero-gravity like he does in the trailer (and the movie poster) and when the time finally arrives, you applaud. It almost makes you forget the first 90 minutes. But in the end, unfortunately, an unpredictable and exciting ending isn’t enough to save “Non-Stop” from mediocrity. But again, it knew what it was.
Suspend your disbelief for a moment and let yourself get caught up in the excitement. If you can manage that, you might actually be entertained.