The Liam Neeson Cinematic Universe adds a new entry this week with Non-Stop, the actor’s latest turn as an action star. The airplane thriller features Neeson as disgruntled air marshal Bill Marks, who’s caught in the middle of a miles-high crisis.
Directed by Jaume Collet-Serra, Non-Stop follows Marks, an on-edge alcoholic, as he boards a flight from New York to London. His mission: Sit patiently in business class, make sure nobody does anything stupid, and interfere if they do.
That plan goes awry when Marks begins receiving text messages from an unknown passenger, who commands Marks to transfer millions of dollars to a specific bank account; if he fails to comply, the texter will kill one passenger every 20 minutes. It doesn’t take long for the texter to make good on his/her word (albeit in a roundabout way), leading Marks to take drastic and highly questionable action in service of finding the killer and protecting the other passengers.
“Highly questionable” works well as a summary of Non-Stop. It’s another baffling project for Neeson; the story makes little sense, especially when the texter’s true identity and agenda come to light.
Indeed, Neeson isn’t the only high-caliber actor in the mildly entertaining thriller: Also along for the ride are award-winning actress Julianne Moore, Downton Abbey star Michelle Dockery, House of Cards actor Corey Stoll, Oscar nominee Lupita Nyong’o and Batman’s dad Linus Roche. What are these fine, talented performers doing in this movie? It’s difficult to say, because for the most part, they don’t have a lot to do. But to their credit, they make the most of their scenes, imbuing otherwise-forgettable characters with enough personality to help make the two-hour run time go a little bit faster.
Cast aside, there are some other worthy players that keep Non-Stop from crashing and burning. The text-message visuals, for example, are easily the film’s most creative element. As the texter continues taunting Marks, the messages are displayed on screen, popping up with the speed, color and sound one would expect to see in one of those futuristic high-tech computers used in Minority Report. It’s a cool gimmick that works well, especially during one scene where Marks reads texts from a broken cell phone.
As for the action, it’s surprisingly sparse. Trailers and marketing for Non-Stop suggest a lot more gunplay than the film ever offers. There’s one well-crafted and memorable bathroom fight scene, even if the reasons behind it are pretty laughable. There’s another action-heavy encounter toward the end of the film that plays well, because Neeson kicking bad-guy butt pretty much always plays well.
For the most part, however, Non-Stop is more of a thriller than an action movie. Its emphasis is on the whodunit aspect of the story, punching faces and kicking groins only when necessary. That would be fine, if the mystery resolved in any sort of earned, satisfying way. The film drops a lot of clues about who the killer-texter really is, but the ultimate answer doesn’t come together when thinking back on the preceding events. More importantly than not making much sense, the revelation just feels kind of “blah.” The jaw doesn’t hit the floor; it opens only enough to let out a yawn.
But Neeson getting angry and rapidly sinking in hot water is usually fun to watch, even if only at a basic popcorn level. For whatever reason, the accomplished actor has decided the action-thriller is a pool he wants to keep swimming in. It certainly seems like he’s having fun, and his enthusiasm is a bit contagious, even when he’s in the middle of a middling movie.
Non-Stop isn’t non-stop awesome, but it’s not a total bore, either. If Neeson punching throats and growling aggressive threats is your favorite thing, then maybe it’s worth booking a ticket. Or you could just watch Taken again and call it a night. Same difference, really.
Non-Stop opens today nationwide.