I once saw Liam Neeson joke in an interview that he only signed onto ‘Taken’ for cash assuming that it would go straight to video. Instead, the flick was one of the biggest hits of his career, and now Oskar Schindler is one of the top action stars in La-la-land. It was jarring to see Neeson punch bad guys in their stupid faces the first time, but now it’s business as usual for the growling Irishman. ‘Non-Stop’ is probably the most entertaining action flick he’s made since ‘Taken’. It is of course incredibly stupid, but like the mid-’90s movies it’s very much an homage to, the silly fluff goes down smoothly if you can lower your brain activity to its wavelength.
Neeson stars as an alcoholic air marshal with a troubled past named Bill Marks who’s jetting across the Atlantic on what should be a routine flight. Wouldn’t ya know it, halfway through the flight he gets a text from an unknown passenger claiming that someone will die in 20 minutes unless $150 million is transferred into an offshore account. It happens and, even worse, the account ends up being in Marks’ name! So, it’s a stressful day on the job to say the least and a tense real-time action flick for the audience.
The plot that both the fictional villain and real life screenwriters whipped up is ridiculously elaborate, but surprisingly clever. This is a film that operates on movie logic over reality, but for the first 80 minutes, that movie logic is sound. It’s a stupid movie smart enough to at least treat the audience with the respect of assuming that they’ve seen stupid action movies before, and the filmmakers know how to toy with expectations. By the time the passengers start to assume Marks is in fact hijacking the plane, the groundwork has been laid out well enough for it to seem possible (if not plausible), and that’s really all you need for this sort of thing.
‘Non-Stop’ was directed Jaume Collet-Serra, who previously guided Neeson through ‘Unknown‘, but more importantly made the absolutely ridiculous horror thriller ‘Orphan‘. ‘Non-Stop’ shares that film’s tongue-in-cheek approach to Hollywood clichés, gleefully mocking, diverting and conforming to them in a way that makes an old genre piece feel fresh. It’s essentially a ‘Speed’ knockoff, but a good one filled with arresting visuals, more narrative twists than a script written by a million M. Knight Shyamalans on a million typewriters, and two excellent actors in Neeson and Julianne Moore who add credibility to the project while slumming it.
Obviously, the movie isn’t perfect, and certainly falls off the rails in the last 20 minutes with a couple of bonehead bad guy speeches and some horrendous CGI. But until then, the flick is as close to B-movie bliss as you can hope to experience in February. ‘Non-Stop’ isn’t destined to win awards or become heralded as a classic, but it’s exactly the type of movie that you’d channel-surf by on a lazy Sunday and end up lost in. That’s about as high as you can shoot in this genre and worthy praise. It’s just a shame that it’ll never play on a plane, because this is the exact type of film that feels riveting when you’re lost in a high altitude/mini-liquor bottle daze.