Apparently enough time has passed since 9/11 so that people feel comfortable making movies about terrorists hijacking airplanes again, meaning that said subject matter has moved back down the insensitivity scale and now sits comfortably at ‘mostly tasteless’ as opposed to ‘completely tasteless.’ Unsurprisingly, the film shies away from anything as controversial as a morally ambiguous, complex antagonist, and instead opts to keep things nice and accessible to the slack-jawed masses with the simple, wholesome message “TERRORISTS ARE BAD!”
Spanish filmmaker Jaume Collet-Serra directs the production in his first film since his 2011 action-thriller, also starring Liam Neeson, Unknown. Well paced but ultimately unremarkable, Non-Stop is a thriller/mystery sort of affair which ultimately lives and dies by its writing. According to Wikipedia, the story is credited to John W. Richardson and Chris Roach, but the screenplay itself seems to be credited to three other, completely different individuals. So, that’s basically a basketball team’s worth of writers all collaborating on the same project, all no doubt fighting tooth and nail to have their creative vision realized, culminating in a plot with more holes than Willem Dafoe at the end of Platoon.
Liam Neeson, I’m convinced, has joined Jeff Bridges and Harrison Ford on the list of idiot savants that populate Hollywood, in the sense that they’re all really talented actors, but for some reason keep ending up in mediocre or just downright bad films. But, then again, when you’ve portrayed Oskar Schindler in the best picture of 1993 you can do whatever you like, I suppose. Nevertheless, Neeson’s smooth, paternal presence is kind of the ideal choice for his role as a put-upon sky marshal at the end of his rope. Oscar winner Lupita Nyong’o also makes an appearance as flight attendant Gwen Lloyd, though she has precious little screen time and her talents could have been put to much better use.
Whether or not you enjoy Non-Stop will depend largely on your ability to suspend all disbelief. The Transporter series came to mind first as I tried to think of a suitable comparison to this journey into ludicrousness, and indeed, ‘ludicrous’ is quite an appropriate word to describe the film. Up until about the first half or so, the story consists of a competent but generic mystery setup involving an apparent terrorist anonymously threatening Neeson’s Bill Marks via cellphone. And then— red herrings are thrown into the mix with reckless abandon, gaping plot holes and hugely glaring coincidences start manifesting themselves, and such a massive portion of the story relies on pure chance – that the antagonist claims he was able to calculate beforehand, with the aid of clairvoyance, apparently- that I can’t help but be taken out of the story.
If you can somehow move past those aspects and accept the film for the pulpy, nonsensical experience that it isn’t trying to be, but is nonetheless, Non-Stop isn’t completely without it’s charms. The climax is appropriately tense given the preceding events, and the absolute absurdity of the big reveal might make you laugh out loud and mirthfully roll your eyes at the silliness of it all. Likewise, Neeson remains a strong force throughout, aided by a generally engaging supporting cast.
I suppose my main piece of advice if you choose to see Non-Stop is to lower your expectations and take the trailer with mountainous piles of salt. The film certainly has pretensions towards being a hard-nosed, tense action-thriller, but in reality it’s really only to be enjoyed for it’s solid cast and outlandish spectacle. Depending on your tolerance for such things, that might be enough, but at the same time, I don’t suppose there will be a mad dash to buy the DVD when it comes out in a couple of months.
Rating: 3 out of 5