Liam Neeson has battled terrorists on land (Taken), he’s fought aliens at sea (Battleship) and now, the actor can say that he’s part of the action genre Mile High Club thanks to his latest film, Non-Stop. Directed by frequent Joel Silver collaborator, Jaume Collet-Serra (Orphan/Unknown), we once again watch Liam become entangled in some thrilling bit of drama involving an airplane, a drinking problem, and a hidden bomb – presenting plenty of ass-kicking opportunities along the way. Simple set up, similar action, and more serious faces from Liam Neeson (Exhibit A above), but at least the single-setting situation presented by an airplane in flight creates a fresh bit of fun for audiences to wrap their minds around. Where a film like Taken 2 felt stale and rehashed, Non-Stop challenges typical genre norms by confining fight scenes to tiny bathroom stalls and crowded aisles – a saving grace that creates a more than acceptable mainstream watch.
Air marshal Bill Marks (Liam Neeson) spends his days keeping flights safe, but that doesn’t mean he enjoys his job. Still showing visible uneasiness during takeoff, Bill makes friends with Jen Summers (Julianne Moore) when she realizes that he might need a little help relaxing. After the plane stops shaking, Bill is able to sit back and enjoy the flight – until a random text message tells our marshal that every 20 minutes a passenger will be killed off unless a large sum of money is forked over. Questioning the sincerity of said text, Bill unfortunately realizes that our talkative criminal isn’t messing around when the first body turns up, prompting Bill to enter badass detective mode – but on a plane full of strangers, who can you trust?
Non-Stop is a logistical time bomb waiting to explode in a fiery blast of unbelievable action and mindless trickery, but luckily I was pleasantly surprised by the amount of times I ended up rolling my eyes because of the ridiculous reaches that the script inevitably made. Where Taken became an almost cult hit because of Liam Neeson’s surprise badassery, Non-Stop once again ignites Neeson’s bad boy fuse with similar results, but the change of location prevents it from turning into another bland hero thriller like Unknown did – a Taken copycat with almost no deviation. Tighter blueprinting restricts Neeson’s motion, making fights more difficult and dangerous, guns become wildly illogical because a stray bullet could bring the plane down, and instead of Liam Neeson slamming people’s heads into walls, he can slam them into chairs and sinks instead! Yay, variety!
Let’s not fool ourselves though – Non-Stop is yet another action adventure built entirely on clichés and stereotypes. Sure, the zero gravity gun tricks might be new, but the red herrings and obvious characters harken back to something of a mid-air game of Clue – with about half of the surprises. You’ve got the racially profiled middle-eastern, the hot tempered NYPD nut, the sketchy schoolteacher, the deceivingly innocent child flying alone for the first time – no one can be trusted! Was I surprised when the dust settled and our villain had presented her/himself? Nope, if I laid money down in Vegas, I would have been a rich man – but having fun along the way makes up for my missed millions.
Liam Neeson leads a cast of players who all embody their roles with enough mystery to at least present some kind of puzzle, as we don’t have to rely on Mr. Neeson’s character to captain our doomed flight. Dealing with emotional distress and clouding alcoholism, Bill Marks is no Bryan Mills, stuffed with more drama then necessary.
It’s the likes of Julianne Moore, Jason Butler Harner, Scoot McNairy, Nate Parker, Lupita Nyong’o and Michelle Dockery who aid in Neeson’s investigation. Actors like Scoot understand the shady personality necessary for such a convoluted role, as we’re supposed to question whether a primp and proper “average white male” could be capable of terrorist level destruction. Non-Stop isn’t exactly a logical game of Chess, more like a simplistic game of Checkers, but our players have more defining characteristics beyond being faceless black and red tokens.
Look at that, I made it through my entire review without making a bad “non-stop” pun assuring viewers that Liam Neeson’s latest movie most certainly concludes – you don’t understand the willpower that commands. Non-Stop certainly isn’t the next Commando – hell, it’s not even the next Taken – but Jaume Collet-Serra’s attention to the smaller details levels off for a smooth and brisk ride. Touches like auto correct appearing on screen as Liam is texting offer a good chuckle, but also an entirely more believable realm of reality, one we live in daily – just with more shooting on airplanes and angry Liam Neeson faces.
Non-Stop certainly wastes no time, establishing a cool little "Who done it?" story for the modern, tech savvy world.