Cast: Liam Neeson (Bill Marks), Julianne Moore (Jen), Michelle Dockery (Nancy), Corey Stoller (Austin), Scoot McNairy (Tom), Lupita Nyong’o (Gwen)
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I know exactly what you thought when you saw the trailer for Non-Stop.
“Good God, what has happened to Liam Neeson’s career?!? Why does he keep starring in all of these crappy mid-winter ridiculous-as-hell action thrillers?”
At least that’s what went through my head.
His voice role as Bad Cop/Good Cop in the enormously successful Lego Movie notwithstanding, Neeson hasn’t exactly been on a high-quality streak between the likes of Unknown (which actually made me MAD, it was that dumb), Wrath of the Titans, Battleship and Taken 2. (I’m leaving out The Grey because I actually enjoyed that one. Yeah, I said it!)
But here’s the surprise: while Non-Stop isn’t going to win any Oscars, it’s not going to win any Razzies, either. It is by no means the poor man’s Agatha Christie/Alfred Hitchcock whodunit lovechild I assumed it would be. Instead, it’s a nail-biter of the best kind, because right up until its literally explosive ending, your suspension of disbelief isn’t broken by any awful dialogue or exaggerated acting.
A lot of credit for that goes to Neeson (in prime Anguished Hero mode), an excellent (if underused) supporting cast, and the screenwriting team of John W. Richardson, Chris Roach and Ryan Engle. The background of Neeson’s troubled Bill Marks isn’t shoved down our throats, but rather given to us in bits and pieces. From the opening scenes we know that despite a drinking problem, he’s an “attention to details” kind of guy. He’s thoroughly checked out the other passengers on his cross-Atlantic flight before he even takes his seat. Shortly thereafter we come to know why: he’s an air marshal.
Not too long after the plane has leveled off and is over the ocean, Marks gets what he thinks must be a joke text. The person on the other end is demanding that $150 million (!?!) be deposited into a certain account or else someone on the plane will die. Another person will be killed every 20 minutes until the money transfer can be confirmed. Say what? Has somebody had one too many travel-size vodkas?
After the first 20 minutes have passed, however, it’s clear the texter is for real. The pilots are made aware of the situation, but it’ll be at least another hour before they can find anywhere to land. And because of Marks’ spotty past, his TSA superiors on the ground aren’t exactly buying the story.
So with no quick or easy way out of the situation, Marks must figure out who’s taunting him with the texts. He also must figure out who else he can trust onboard, because it’s a big plane and he can’t be everywhere at once. What about Nancy, the stewardess with whom he seems to have had some sort of romantic past? Or what about Jen, the seemingly normal woman sitting next to him? But wait a second, she wasn’t originally supposed to sit next to him—she specifically asked for that window seat. Hmm.
Needless to say, shifty-eyed, guilty-looking passengers abound in both the main cabin and first class. But as one possible suspect after another proves himself to Marks, the situation gets more desperate. This texter is a smart little bastard, and it turns out the mystery villain wants much more than money. Time is running out for Marks to catch the baddie, and as such—on top of the growing body count—he also has to worry about a total passenger revolt. You see, a video of Marks’ onboard badassery has been sent to the media, who are quick to demonize him. Which begs the question, could Marks have somehow masterminded this entire thing?
I will admit to thinking I had a major piece of the puzzle figured out within the first ten minutes . . . and I was wrong. So either surviving three rounds of the Polar Vortex has killed off a ton of my brain cells, or director Jaume Collet-Serra has built a more clever action thriller than we’ve come to anticipate during these early months of the year. Now, the film’s ultimate resolution wasn’t too satisfying, but that’s really not why anyone wants to see a movie like Non-Stop, now is it? You go into the theater with the expectation—nay, the hope!—of watching Liam Neeson use nothing but his own brute strength and wily Irish ways to fight off five younger dudes at the same time (or kidnappers, or wolves, or whatever) and emerge victorious. And in that department, Non-Stop will not disappoint.
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Check out these Redbox picks from the cast of Non-Stop: