It doesn’t take a lot of cleverness to notice that the new airborne thriller Non-Stop is the latest addition to the now-becoming ubiquitous saga of Liam Neeson punching the living shit out of anyone who pisses him off – may it be Albanian kidnappers, Alaskan wolves or any henchman who stand along his way. It’s now a sub-genre unto itself, the Neeson action movie, abandoning luminous Oscar type roles in Schindler’s List and Kinsey to forge a new iconic image as a grizzled, gruff, no-nonsense late-life action hero in blitzkrieg movies such as Taken, Unknown and The Grey at the age of 61. Something of an accomplishment, given that his contemporaries are hustling around for group action ensembles (hello, The Expendables and Red series) when Neeson can do it all alone by himself, thank you very much.
In Non-Stop, Neeson plays a variation of the Neeson archetype in every other Neeson action thriller, only this time with added booze. Here, he’s an alcoholic US air marshal tasked to protect the fictional British Aqualantic bound for London, a flight that really doesn’t hold its promise of a smooth ride since one of its passengers persistently sends cryptic text messages to the marshal, threatening to kill one person ever 20 minutes until a bulk of $150 million is transferred to a bank account – a grim set-up that sounds like Ryanair’s insurance policy. And so the film throttles along into an Agatha Christie-esque whodunnit mystery crossed with almost every airplane thriller in recent memory (Paul Greengrass’ United 93, Robert Schwentke’s Flightplan and the underrated brilliance of Wes Craven’s Red Eye).
No points for originality, then, as Non-Stop shoehorns contrivance after another, turning the film into a tedious game of guessing who the suspected terrorist is, when at a closer look, it’s already been given away early on in the proceedings. There’s even a running plot gambit of Neeson’s Bill Marks, with his alcoholism and tragic family background, being deemed as the duplicitous hero-cum-villain who might have staged all the shady hijacking business. In a basic screenplay formula, this is conveniently employed to throw a red-herring in a cockpit full of them.
Everyone becomes a potential suspect, it’s just a matter of finding out who looks and behaves the dodgiest among the panoply of credible actors playing incredibly lacklustre roles. Could it be Julianne Moore’s nervy fellow traveller, or perhaps Michelle Dockery, whose genteel Downton Abbey accent betrays her hidden motivations? Or perhaps it’s Lupita Nyong’o’s severely underwritten flight attendant? Wait – Corey Stoll’s tough-talking NYPD cop might be the guy, or Scott Nairy’s kindly schoolteacher? It’s overstuffed with so many diversions it comes a point where you hardly care anymore.
Non-Stop is not only terribly titled but also preposterously structured, heaving with questionable plot details (online video streaming and broadcast news on airlines will raise eyebrows) giving way to an underwhelming climax, considering the amount of time spent building up claustrophobic tension inside the confines of a pressurised cabin. When the denouement comes and all dots have been painstakingly connected, the big reveal becomes infuriatingly generic rather than satisfying, and risible rather than convincing.
Quite a shame since director Jaume Collet-Serra (who previously worked with Neeson in the disposable Unknown) has infused a few impressive touches to his filmmaking craft, gliding the camera out of the business-class cabin window, out of the flying plane and rejoining the action transpiring in the economy section or staging a knuckle-gnawing fisticuff fight largely inside a tiny toilet cubicle. He marshals the movie with even-handedness, despite the automatic plot mechanics at work in forgettable thrillers such as this. Blame the three writers who worked on the screenplay, hardly an argument for the number of writers involved equate to a better output, mapping out this nonsense with logical inconsistencies. You’re better off waiting for this to come out in ITV2 rather than spend a dime in cinema. Or just skip this entirely.