Non-Stop (2014) / Thriller-Mystery

MPAA Rated: PG-13 for intense sequences of action and violence, some language, sensuality and drug references
Running Time: 106 min.

Cast: Liam Neeson, Julianne Moore, Michelle Dockery, Scoot McNairy, Nate Parker, Corey Stoll, Jason Butler Harner, Omar Metwally, Linus Roache, Shea Wigham, Lupita Nyong'o
Director: Jaume Collet-Serra
Screenplay: Chris Roach, John W. Richardson, Ryan Engle

Review published February 27, 2014

Non-Stop is a mystery-thriller meant to provide just enough titillation and thrills to keep audiences guessing, hoping that once the ludicrous explanation finally emerges in the last twenty minutes, we will have sufficiently found it entertaining in order to forgive the shoddy denouement.  Director Jaume Collet-Serra (House of Wax, Orphan) reunites with Liam Neeson (The LEGO Movie, The Nut Job) after their similarly twisty genre excursion, Unknown.

Neeson stars as federal air marshal Bill Marks, an alcoholic with a checkered, traumatic past whose latest assignment, a flight to London from New York, turns into a personal and professional nightmare when he receives an anonymous text claiming that someone on board the plane will die every twenty minutes if $150 million isn't wired over to a special secured account.  With time ticking down, Marks springs to action, doing whatever he can to try to locate the culprit before anyone gets hurt, though the more he digs, the more he begins to lose the faith and support of the passengers, crew and support back home, especially when he begins to get drawn in as one of the suspects.

Over 12 years after the events of 9/11, perhaps finally we've gotten over the "too soon" feel of terror in the air, especially in the underlying commentary regarding the perhaps false feeling of safety involved in the TSA and Homeland Security approach to commercial air travel.  Going further, the events of 9/11 are even echoed in the plot of this pure-entertainment thriller, perhaps the best evidence that, while the tragedy may always be woven into the American public's psyche, it's not to the point of it being taboo fodder for Hollywood to utilize the echoing paranoia felt today for its slick thrillers.

Red herring characters abound, perhaps literally 'red' when you have Julianne Moore (Carrie, The English Teacher) as one of the possible suspects, in this logically flawed but admittedly very watchable thrill-ride.  Part of this comes through the tightly edited style of director Collet-Serra, who uses the claustrophobia of the jet planes passenger area and lavatory to his advantage -- there's nowhere to run to, nowhere to hide.  Much of the film that plays out is merely meant as misdirection for the audience, though the contortions the plot takes in order to have to facilitate the storyline moving forward may be a bit much for some viewers who don't care for gross and obvious manipulation.

As we're dealing with modern technology, much of the communication comes in the form of text messages that Marks receives on his cellphone that is on a private network.  To keep distractions at bay, the terrorist at hand seems to always be ready with a response to Marks every inquiry, as return texts are nearly instantaneous, and also quite good grammatically. 

As with many mystery-thrillers, once you find out what's actually going on, the movie begins to not only lose its power, but also begins to fall apart from the realization that much of how the nefarious plot plays out would have required not only beyond-genius forethought in the psychology of hundreds of airplane passengers and how they would react, while at the same time leaves far too much dependence on sheer dumb luck to succeed.  Plus, once you find out the motive, it's all a bit too heavy-handed and unconvincing.  Best to just ignore that aspect if one wants to just have a rip-roaring time.

Still, while the big picture is riddled with Swiss cheese-like holes, Non-Stop gives enough of the small stuff in order to deliver the entertainment that multiplex moviegoers are likely seeking.  In one scene, Marks and one of his potential perps get involved in a hotly fought out hand-to-hand struggle in the miniscule environs of an airplane lavatory.  In others, he knocks about other passengers, or and there are even moments of dangerous gun interplay aboard the dangerously high-altitude jetliner.

Ever-reliable Neeson commands the screen, as he so often does in films such as this, while a decent supporting cast of characters provides just enough idiosyncrasies to make them suspects, yet enough charm to make you second guess.  As the table begins to turn on Marks as far as his ability to get the passengers to trust him with command of the plane, things begin to get interesting, and the last few scenes of the film turn into a gloriously over-the-top action movie.

Non-Stop may be fine for a slick, entertaining diversion, but it definitely doesn't hold up to even liberally defined plausibility, and may leave you with a large logic hangover once it's all over.  Nevertheless, as this amped-up mystery plays, it isn't easy to take your eyes off of the screen, making this acceptable fare for pulp-y popcorn movie fanatics who have no intention of actually mulling over the exceedingly preposterous events of the film, blissfully vanishing like a vaporous memory the second the end credits start to roll.

Qwipster's rating:

2014 Vince Leo