With Liam Neeson, Julianne Moore, Lupita Nyong’o, Scoot McNairy, Michelle Dockery. Written by John W. Richardson & Christopher Roach and Ryan Engle. Directed by Jaume Collet-Serra. Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of action and violence, some language, sensuality and drug references. 113 minutes.
If we’re in the cold dark days of winter, then it must be time for another Liam Neeson action film. Instead of searching for his kidnapped daughter or wife or fighting off a pack of wolves, this time he’s a U.S. Air Marshal on a flight with someone on board threatening to kill someone every twenty minutes unless he gets $150 million. Yes, you read that right. NON-STOP is the most improbable thriller since “The Taking of Pelham 1-2-3.”
Once the flight takes off, it’s essentially a locked-room story, in which Bill Marks (Neeson) gets text messages taunting him that someone on the plane will die unless the ransom is paid. Of course there are 150 passengers on the plane plus crew and there’s no telling who is responsible. There are potential red herrings galore, starting with Jen Summers (Julianne Moore), who contrives to get the seat next to Marks on the plane. Is she just an eccentric traveler or was this all by design? We’re kept to Marks’s point of view so we don’t know.
One doesn’t want to say too much more about the plot because even describing the suspects or how the plot unfolds would give too much away. Suffice to say the story–as absurd as it is–is cleverly constructed so that there are revelations and twists along the way right up until the inevitable showdown (and it’s probably safe to say that this won’t be appearing as inflight entertainment anywhere).
Perhaps no one is as surprised as the 61-year-old Neeson that he’s become an action star at this stage of his career, but there’s no question he can carry it off. A brutal fight within the confines of an airline toilet shows he’s ready for anything. Perhaps the reason for his success is that Neeson is also a credible actor, and so the requirements of the action film are add-ons rather than some muscle-bound guy trying to show he can act.
Given the nature of the plot, most of the cast is playing passengers and crew, which are rather limiting roles. Moore gets the most screen time and has fun with the material without looking like she’s slumming. Oscar nominee Lupita Nyong’o (“12 Years A Slave”) plays one of the flight attendants but doesn’t have much to do. One suspects she either did this before the other film or, certainly, before the acclaim she got for her work in it.
“Non-Stop” isn’t so much a story that needed to be told as a problem to be solved by the filmmakers. Like “Panic Room” (2002), “Phone Booth” (2002), and “Red Eye” (2005), it sets up a situation in which a protagonist is under threat in a confined or limited space and has to use his or her wits to survive and win. The script keeps throwing more and more complications at Marks so that it seems like he’ll never get out of it. It’s to the credit of the three screenwriters that, in the end, all the pieces of the puzzle fall into place.
The film also serves as proof that director Jaume Collet-Serra seems to have finally found his meal ticket in Hollywood. After the ludicrous “House Of Wax” (2005) remake, he did the creepy “Orphan” (2009) which might have led to more horror films. Instead, his next, “Unknown” (2011), was a psychological thriller that was that winter’s Liam Neeson action film. And coming next February is “Run All Night” in which he tells the story of an aging hitman played by–who else?–Liam Neeson.•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books. His first novel, Shh! It’s A Secret: A Novel About Aliens, Hollywood and the Bartender’s Guide has just been released. He lives in Somerville, MA.