Non-Stop features such a brilliant set-up that you spend most of the film wondering if it can pay it off. The answer is no. But for three-quarters of the run-time it is a taut, tense thriller that demands and keeps your attention. Once the Big Reveal is made, things go south in a hurry as director Jaume Collet-Serra and his writers opt for a damaging, cliche-filled final act. It’s a shame since the film is a smoldering slow-burn that deserves better.
Liam Neeson stars as William Marks, a depressed, alcoholic federal air marshal who’s tasked to a London-bound flight. Shortly after take-off he begins receiving threatening text messages from a passenger. The person is threatening to kill another passenger every twenty minutes until $150 million is transferred to an offshore bank account. Things escalate rapidly when the mystery passenger makes good on his initial threat and begins making even more serious ones. Marks finds himself in a race against time to locate the person responsible and save everyone else on-board.
Echoing the premise of 2005’s Flightplan and countless Agatha Christie whodunits, Non-Stop is nothing less than exhilarating in the execution of its first two acts. Sure, willing suspension of disbelief is required as you wonder why they don’t just land the plane and diffuse the situation. The way in which Collet-Serra handles the cat-and-mouse exchanges between Marks and the villain is imaginative and never less than suspenseful. It’s only when the reveal of the villain and their motivations happens that the film really loses its way. Collapsing to token action scenes and events the go way beyond what can be reasonably asked to disbelieve, the third act is crippling and unsatisfying.
Neeson has made a handsome living the past few years playing damaged, heroic every-men. With Non-Stop it’s beginning to lose its luster and, at times, become a parody of itself. The script’s handling of Marks’s more serious flaws is heavy-handed and dicey, and Neeson’s forced into some unintentional comedic moments because of it. He still commands the screen and is an easy hero to root for (especially at age 61), but with Taken 3 and a host of other revenge/action projects in progress, it’s fair to wonder if the expiration date for this character archetype is approaching.
Non-Stop is the kind of movie Netflix was invented for. Pay top dollar and you’ll feel disappointed, but stream it on a rainy Sunday and you’ll get your money’s worth. It’s a well-made, highly enjoyable suspense/thriller (a genre we don’t get that often any more) most of the way, but the screenwriters just don’t come up with a satisfying way to finish what they started.
Studio: Universal Pictures
Length: 106 Minutes
Rating: PG-13 for intense sequences of action and violence, some language, sensuality and drug references.
Theatrical Release: February 28, 2014
Directed by: Jaume Collet-Serra
Written by: John W. Richardson & Christopher Roach & Ryan Engle
Cast: Liam Neeson, Julianne Moore, Scoot McNairy, Michelle Dockery, Nate Parker