I haven’t read many other reviews for Non-Stop, but if I had to guess, at least a few probably include some form of “this movie is running on autopilot” or some other cheesy, unoriginal airplane-related pun. This is one case in which such a statement actually seems appropriate, because this movie is equally cheesy and unoriginal. So, yeah. Non-Stop is running on autopilot – and if there was a more clever way to start this article, the movie wouldn’t deserve it. (or so I tell myself.)
Liam Neeson once again reprises the same type of role that we first experienced in Taken, when the actor became a beloved, surprisingly relatable action star — even to those who don’t know any 60-year old who regularly go on violent rampages in real life. This time, it isn’t his daughter who’s been kidnapped — it’s the airplane he’s serving as an air marshall on. When he starts getting anonymous texts that someone on the plane will be killed every twenty minutes if he is not payed a lot of money (what else), it’s time for Neeson to pull out his ‘specific set of skills’ and his terrifyingly stoic, authoritative presence once again to save the day and inevitably kill some guys.
Yeah, that’s a pretty ridiculous plot, but then again, so was Taken‘s. Unfortunately, for many reasons Non-Stop doesn’t hold a candle to that amazingly asinine popcorn movie. The first is the surprise factor. Seeing Liam Neeson, the sad-eyed, tired looking guy who played Oskar Schindler suddenly killing people like he was Bruce Lee made Taken stranglesy fascinating, but also undeniably hilarious. This was especially effective because it essentially came out of nowhere. Non-Stop is in the exact opposite situation: now, everyone expects another Taken, something that’s utterly ridiculous, campy, and violent. In fact, the trailers for this one were undeniably designed with the sole purpose of selling the movie as Taken on a Plane. But Taken this is not — it just wishes it was.
For most of the film, Neeson doesn’t know who is issuing the death threats or if they’re even real. All he can do is look around the plane scene after scene, trying to figure out which passenger (many played by talented actors) is the most suspicious. We’ve got Juliane Moore wasted as a neurotic but kindhearted woman, House of Cards fantastic Corey Stoll wasted as a brutish cop, and 12 Years a Slave‘s Lupita N’yongo wasted as a flight attendant who probably delivers about four lines. Their jobs are basically to be red herrings, but there aren’t really any convincing evidence that any of them (or anyone else on the plane) could be the culprit. It doesn’t help that when you finally do find out who’s behind all of this, it’s not even surprising. It just feels like the movie’s writer chose one of the characters at random.
Oh yeah, and Neeson’s also pretty terrible at his job. In his other action movies, a lot of the fun comes from seeing him stay calm and get the job done effectively – his ability to maintain control during intense situations helped him through both Taken movies, The Grey, and Unknown (which shares the same director as Non-Stop). This movie’s biggest mistake is that Neeson never really knows what’s going on, and must rely on others to figure it out. In the end, he barely does anything to solve the problem on his own. If he weren’t on board, there’s no reason to believe the plane would be any better off.
But the threat is kept ill-defined, so we also don’t know what’s going on most of the time, either. Because of this, there is a definite lack of suspense for a majority of the movie. The director likely knew this, and as a result he decided to include twist after twist in order to create a manufactured sense of surprise which the poor set-up can’t possibly convey on its own. The fact that there seems to be a new reveal every ten minutes lessens the impact of all of them. Some of them actually forward the plot, but sometimes they just left me thinking, ‘wait, was that supposed to be a plot twist?’ They are either super-predictable, or super-ridiculous — you can either see it coming a mile away, or never in a million years could you have guessed it. All in all, the film has about seven twists up its sleeve and not one of them is delivered well.
The movie tries to illicit gasps, but all I could muster were groans.
The most exciting parts of the trailer are all ripped from the last fifteen-or-so minutes, when the director must have realized they still hadn’t given people what they obviously came for, and had to squish as much Taken as possible onto the back end. The sudden burst of insane, close-quarters violence is a huge relief, and finally lets Neeson take control of the situation and stop being such an embarrassingly pathetic version of his other characters. But it all ends quickly in an anti-climactic burst of truly terrible special effects, once again taking the spotlight away from Neeson, the film’s one and only great asset.
This isn’t to say there aren’t certain things that the movie does well. There are moments of campy humor (sometimes intentional, sometimes not intentional) that give the film a more playful tone that makes me wish it didn’t try to take itself so seriously most of the time. Then, there’s the clever integration of text messaging, which despite the fact that they stole from House of Cards, allows for some interesting visual moments and the smartest method of censoring the f-word I’ve seen in a PG-13 movie. But these fun elements are peripheral and only help to emphasize the lack of effort spent on making the important parts of the film — such as its plot — exciting.
So yeah. To recap, I didn’t think Non-Stop was very good. It technically includes all of the elements that could make for a good thriller, but it wastes almost every good thing it has, from Neeson to the unique setting, to the supporting cast. To dispense of another equally-wasted pun, Non-Stop ironically never feels like it really ever starts. I apologize.
Rating: 2 out of 5 stars