I wanted to like Non-Stop, a well-produced thriller about an air marshal tormented by an unknown extortionist while on a transatlantic flight, but the film’s inherent goofiness keep pulling me out of the tension. I’m inclined to give it a pass, lest I come off as Mr. Stuffy Film Critic, that guy who just can’t enjoy a little B-movie dreck. And it certainly doesn’t hurt that Liam Neeson stars as the sky cop, a deteriorating alcoholic named Bill Marks. Neeson commands the screen, bringing believability to all but the most ridiculous moments, though even his weighty presence is eventually overwhelmed by just how far off course Non-Stop flies.
At its core, Non-Stop is a standard issue Country House Mystery. A group of characters are sequestered in one spot, with somebody knocking off the others one by one right under the nose of a clever detective-type who’s works feverishly to unmask the killer. Non-Stop simply relocates the action from a stately British manor house to a jumbo jet, the rest of the details remain unchanged.
The roster of suspects includes a second air marshal working the flight (Jason Butler Harner), a flight attendant (Downton Abby’s Michelle Dockery), a fiery redhead (Julianne Moore), a scowling NYC cop (House of Cards' Corey Stoll), an electronics whiz (Nate Parker), a Ben Folds lookalike (Scoot McNairy) and 12 Years A Slave’s Lupita Nyong’o, who sadly gets nothing to play at all. I think she has three lines total. Non-Stop was clearly filmed before Lupita became kind of a big deal.
The plot is simple and at least somewhat clever: Marks starts getting texts on his phone that say unless $150 million is deposited in a bank account someone on the plane will die every 20 minutes. At first he suspects his fellow air marshal, then the Ben Folds look-alike, then the red head — at one point he just starts roaming the plane searching folks at random. I’d have to see it again, but I don’t believe Non-Stop leaves any real clues to its conclusion. Neeson simply bumbles along until we get to the point where the killer is revealed.
But before that moment (and after, to be sure), Non-Stop continually follows a does of drama with something unintentionally hilarious. I won’t spoil it, but just remember these two phrases: “weightless gun” and “oxygen mask vs. knife.” I fell over in hysterics for both; neither is meant to be funny.
At least I think neither is meant to be funny. Director Jaume Collet-Serra (Unknown) could have been going for cheese all along, but I suspect he had loftier ambitions — largely because the film appears to be trying to make some kind of larger (if extremely muddled) point about our post-9/11 obsession with airport security theater. Or something. I may be giving Non-Stop too much credit, which is saying something.
None of that matters, anyway. In the end, the decision of whether or not to see Non-Stop is a simple one: If you’re a fan of past examples of Neeson slumming it, movies like Taken and Unknown, I’m sure you’ll find Non-Stop to be endlessly entertaining. If not, you’re liable to find yourself laughing for all the wrong reasons.