In 2009, actor Liam Neeson starred in Pierre Morel’s surprise sleeper hit Taken, and what began was an onslaught of early year/before spring Neeson action releases that solidified the star as playing aging, ‘could-be real life’ superheroes. Since then, there are only two things certain about early action film releases; there will always be one featuring kick-ass icon Jason Statham playing the younger, balder super human hero, and one featuring Neeson, usually playing a wrinkled, more seasoned action star who could very well be your father (or grandfather)–which was badass three films ago. Deep down I am secretly waiting for Hollywood to come to their senses and announce a showdown between the two action superstars. Now talk about a kick-ass early year action release that we kinda saw coming. With something as expected as a Neeson release, also comes the expectation for a cliched, unoriginal, and purely entertaining action story line. Unexpectedly collaborating again with his Unknown director Jaume Collet-Serra, Neeson buckles up for an actioner set in the sky. Unlike the highly entertaining nineties guilty pleasure Air Force One, Non-Stop seems to steer more in the direction of the wholly disastrous Flightplan. After all is said and done, the film becomes a constant re-hashing of previous wind-cutting skyline action films without much original altitude.
Neeson plays Bill Marks, an ex-NYPD officer whose life has been riddled by alcohol and pity for his inability to deliver as a father and husband. Taking cues from 2012 Flight, the comparison between Washington’s intoxicated and wholly unorthodox airline pilot Whip Whitaker and Neeson’s drunken Air Marshal Marks is almost impossible to ignore–but with less satisfying results. As Marks boards his next plane, arguing with his superiors on the phone, he is on the look out for suspecting terrorists. Like most flights today, everyone who boards seem to be the same blend of miserable, occupied, exhausted and professional. As the flight takes off and Marks grips his armrest, he befriends his by chance, first-class neighbour Jen Summers (Julianne Moore). As they get to know one another, Marks receives an anonymous message via a secure network on his mobile device threatening to kill a passenger on the flight every twenty minutes. As the plane makes its way over the Atlantic, hours from the closest airport, Marks must figure out who is attempting to sabotage the plane and it’s passengers, as well as frame him for a terrorist attack on the very plane he was hired to Marshal.
Screenwriters John W. Richardson, Christopher Roach and Ryan Engle had the potential to do so much with a script surrounding an Air Marshal in a post-9/11 world, yet the three seemed to diddle-daddle in familiar, mystery/thriller action territory. The characters are just about as interesting as the reasoning behind the terrorist attack. Neeson brings nothing new or special to the role, leaving all that talent behind on the runway. Obvious jabs are directed towards the only clear terrorist stereotype of the film, Dr. Fahim Nasir, played with poise by Omar Metwally, the only Afghan on the flight. Throughout the film, the other passengers questions Marks’ quick and uninterested attitude towards Dr. Nasir, usually resulting in a face with raised eyebrows and a “that’s it?”, even from fellow officer on-board Austin Reilly (Corey Stoll). Non-Stop shows the ignorance and fear that people still carry with them while travelling as so many are still quick to assume terror with Muslims or Middle-Easterners. It was moments like these that make one question the integrity and intelligence of the writers; either they intentionally sought to bring to light this point, or they just felt the need to capitalize on an assumption they figured everyone would make. If you ask me, this alone would make for a much more interesting take on the affects of people on a non-stop flight than what was delivered instead.
The film is a truly safe, by-the numbers ‘whodunit’ with traces of unoriginal directing and half-assed acting. Marks watches his plane fill up with people with hazy eyes and blurry vision, insinuating his drunken state of mind. It’s too bad the film serves nothing interesting once your strapped in and settled.
By the time the big twist comes and the baddies are revealed, there are only a few questions that are left running around non-stop; is there anything Moore can’t be good at? How was Collet-Serra able to round out a cast that includes Scoot McNairy, Nate Parker and Lupita Nyong’o? And why the hell is Neeson so inclined to collaborate with his formulaic and unoriginal director a third time in the upcoming Run All Night feature that is set on February 6th 2015, where, as expected, much of the same uncreative action antics will surely take place?
Non-Stop may deliver cheap thrills, ludicrous revelations, and half-hearted scenes of redemption with much entertainment, but contrary to its title, things seem to move at a much slower rate than suggested. By the time the credits role, one of the questions I was continually asking myself was, why the heck wasn’t I drinking during this turbulent, bumpy ride of a film?
Night Film Reviews: 3 Out of 10 Stars.
Is this right up Neeson’s greatest action performances or a dud? Is Non-Stop the next Taken? How will it fare at the box office this weekend? Leave all your comments and thoughts below.