D: Jaume Collet-Serra / 106m
Cast: Liam Neeson, Julianne Moore, Scoot McNairy, Michelle Dockery, Nate Parker, Corey Stoll, Lupita Nyong’o, Omar Metwally, Jason Butler Harner, Linus Roache, Shea Whigham, Anson Mount
Non-Stop – or the continuing adventures of Liam Neeson in action movie land – starts off promisingly enough with air marshal Bill Marks (Neeson) preparing to board a flight to London from New York. He looks a mess, he’s drinking, he’s obviously got problems, and he has a gun. Once the flight is underway, Marks begins to get text messages over the air marshal network, which should be secure. If the mystery person sending the texts isn’t paid $150 million dollars then someone on the plane will die every twenty minutes until it is. Marks thinks it’s probably some kind of elaborate practical joke, and challenges the other air marshal on the plane, Hammond (Mount) about it, but it’s soon made clear Hammond didn’t send the messages. He alerts the captain and the cabin staff as a precaution, and also his boss at the Transport Security Administration (TSA). Only Marks takes the threat seriously. As the first twenty minute marker nears, Marks finds himself attacked by Hammond (who, it turns out, is being coerced by the texter) and is forced to kill him, thereby doing the texter’s work for him. Marks also discovers that Hammond was carrying a briefcase full of cocaine.
With Marks attempting to keep Hammond’s death from the crew and passengers – and no one making any attempt to use the toilet Hammond’s body is in – the plot thickens as it’s revealed that the account the texter wants the money transferred into is in Marks’ name. With suspicion mounting against him, Marks attempts to discover the texter’s identity by checking the passengers’ cell phones. Some of the passengers take umbrage at this, particularly NY cop Reilly (Stoll), and communications tech White (Parker). When another murder takes place after forty minutes, Marks’ behaviour becomes increasingly more desperate as he attempts to locate the texter, alienating both the crew and passengers further, and as events unfold, putting himself in the frame for what is now being seen by the outside world as a hijacking. Even the TSA believe he’s gone bad. And when he discovers there’s a bomb on the plane, Marks must do all he can to save the plane and himself.
A movie like Non-Stop can be taken (no pun intended), in one of two ways: as a leave-your-brain-at-the-door-and-go-with-it type of movie that could end up being a fun ride, or as yet another dire attempt by Hollywood to provide thrills and spills but without any kind of focus on logic or credibility – still a fun ride perhaps, but one that coasts on its high concept and promise of seeing Neeson doing what he (currently) does best: kick ass. In either circumstance, though, Non-Stop is a let-down, a polished yet soulless piece of work that is, seriously, a real piece of work.
The fault here lies squarely with the script by John W. Richardson, Christopher Roach and Ryan Engle, which piles on absurdity after absurdity and never lets you forget that credibility isn’t an issue. As Marks gets ever more desperate to discover the texter’s identity, and he violates the passengers’ rights with ever-increasing enthusiasm, the script never pauses to wonder if there might be any actual protocols involved in dealing with such an admittedly unusual situation. When Marks tells everyone about the bomb and a “damage limitation” procedure, you’re not sure if the script has made it up or it does exist in the real world. Two fighters are scrambled to fly alongside the airliner and with instructions to shoot down the plane if it drops to 8,000 feet or below because then it becomes a civilian threat. But the plane is flying over the Atlantic and is being directed to land in Iceland, not exactly the most populous of locations. Two of the victims are killed by poison dart; neither could have happened in the way they do and the script doesn’t even challenge itself to come up with anything more clever; it settles far too often for a “well, this happens, and then this happens, and it just does” kind of approach.
When the texter’s identity and his or her reasons for doing all this are revealed, it’s such a weak excuse the viewer can only shake their head in dismay and move on to the rapidly approaching finale. It’s also a pretty woolly excuse, and delivered with all the earnestness and conviction of someone trying to explain why they’ve just done something so stupid they’re terminally embarrassed about it (like signing on to be the villain in Non-Stop).
As the script is so poor, and character motivations almost on the nearly extinct list, the cast fare badly, unable to do anything other than say the lines and hit their marks. Neeson tries valiantly to make his role work but he’s hampered by having to be a hero when it would have been so much more effective if there had been some real doubt as to his involvement in the hijacking. Moore is on hand to provide support as the passenger who never doubts Marks for a moment, while McNairy, Stoll, Parker, Metwally and others are trotted out as potential hijackers as the guessing game continues. Dockery, escaping from Downton Abbey (and maybe changing agents at this very moment) is only required to look shocked and surprised at various moments, while Nyong’o, after her triumph in 12 Years a Slave, is saddled with the role of stewardess-most-required-to-scream-and-panic-a-lot.
Collet-Serra directs with ambition and a certain flair, keeping the visual side of things interesting, and making good use of the cramped conditions. However, even he can’t make much of the dire script, and as a result, the cast suffer even further, some, like Dockery, seemingly cast adrift. The action sequences are casually brutal yet effective, though the crash landing at the end won’t be the best use of CGI seen this year. If there is to be a Non-Stop 2 – and we can only pray there won’t be – it will have to be a great deal better than this to warrant a return flight.
Rating: 5/10 – as a popcorn movie, Non-Stop just about makes it, but with serious reservations; laughable in places, frustrating to watch, and just too dumb for its own good.