“Non-Stop” fails to get out of the gate

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With the surprise success of “Taken” in 2009, Liam Neeson’s rise in popularity as an action star — an impressive feat given that the actor was nearing 60 at the time. Since then, Neeson’s become a bona-fide action star, starring in films like “The A-Team,” “Unknown,” and “Battleship.” “Non-Stop,” Neeson’s latest outing, puts the actor through the same motions in a new setting, and is ultimately as forgettable as tasteless peanuts and pre-flight entertainment. 

Neeson plays Bill Marks, a washed-up, alcoholic Air Marshal who is contacted by a faceless adversary on a flight from New York to London. Marks is faced with a life-or-death situation: the mysterious enemy wants $150 million wired to an account, and he will kill a passenger on the flight every 20 minutes until he gets it. Though the phone usage is plausible given the FAA’s recent lift of phone restrictions on flights, but the plot’s over-reliance on people texting each other during the flight makes the siutaion seem less believable as the plot goes on. 

The initial set up of the mystery actually gives the impression that “Non-Stop” will be smarter than its premise implies. Rather than try to track down the assailant alone and expose himself an obvious frame attempt, Marks employs the assistance of the pilots, his partner on the plane, and even a fellow passenger, Jen (Julianne Moore). The entire situation feels like a set-up from the start, and Marks looks as if he won’t fall into a cycle of plot-induced stupidity by enlisting allies. It doesn’t last, unfortunately, and Marks is quick to forget strength in numbers when the film needs to put him in a situation that will make the other characters suspicious of him. The uneven script makes a rough jump from nobody beleiving that the threat is real — an odd amount of skepticism given how serious airline security is taken in our modern climate — and everyone jumping to suspect Marks as soon as the threat begins to prove credible.

Despite the film’s impressive ensemble, none of the performers do memorable work. Julianne Moore is delightful as always, but her character’s excitement at the chance to be involved in solving the mystery inappropriate considering she’s facing a potential plane hijacking. Corey Stoll (“House of Cards”) is the most noteworthy in the cast as an NYPD officer, but neither he nor “12 Years a Slave” co-star Lupita Nyong’o are given enough material to make any sort of impression. Neeson, meanwhile, has settled comfortably into the ‘aging warrior’ archetype he’s embodied since “Taken,” and doesn’t step outside the box here. The opening shots show Marks spiking his coffee (the booze inexplicably poured in slow motion), the first of a rapidly expanding laundry list of reasons that the character is widly unqulaified for his job. There’s a character history that explains his fatigue, but the film ruins any nuance by forcing Neeson into a groan-inducing monologue where he explains his tragic past. 

“Non-Stop” is directed by Jaume Collett-Serra, who also directed Neeson in the forgettable thriller “Unknown.” Like that movie, “Non-Stop” fails to stage a compelling mystery, its reliance on a convoluted premise and increasingly questionable character choices derail any plausibility or tension. The big reveal in the film’s climax feels both unrealistic and unsatisfying. Ultimately, “Non-Stop” can’t get off the ground as an intelligent thriller or an action movie, and is ultimately about as enjoyable as a transatlantic red-eye. 

Genre: Thriller
Run time: 106 minutes
Director: Jamue Collett-Serra