First things first: Non-Stop isn’t nearly as ludicrous and howlingly inept as the similarly plotted Jodie Foster vehicle Flightplan. Even though it’s a high-concept thriller that takes place entirely during a long plane ride, the premise and the execution are nowhere near as unintentionally absurd. In fact, Non-Stop is an engaging, exciting and clever (For a generic studio thriller), dare I say, ride, and it only falls apart during the last ten minutes or so.
Liam Neeson’s badass action hero renaissance continues with Non-Stop. His air marshal Bill Marks is a melding of the tortured soul with a mysterious troubled past from The Grey and the intense focus, intellect and ass-kickery of the father with a certain set of skills in Taken.
The opening shots show him chugging an excessive amount of booze before boarding the London-bound flight he’s supposed to protect. Director Jaume Collet-Serra (Unknown, also starring Neeson) manages to visualize Bill’s alcoholism in an even more heavy-handed fashion than Robert Zemeckis’ excellent melodrama Flight via various shaky-cam and rack-focus effects.
Even though the depiction of the character’s alcoholism is depthless and the twist behind his back-story can be seen from a mile away (Why doesn’t he have a more contemporary picture of his daughter?), it’s always appreciated when a straight genre effort at least attempts to build its characters efficiently before the murderous shenanigans begin, especially if the main conflict of the story directly relates to the protagonist’s inner demons.
And boy, are there some deadly shenanigans in store for Bill once the flight takes off? He begins receiving texts from an anonymous sicko, presumably on the plane with him, threatening to kill off a passenger every twenty minutes unless he receives 150 million dollars.
The mystery that follows is actually full of clever twists and turns. Some of the developments, such as the precision of the first killing which would require the antagonist to possess Matrix Oracle-level powers, requires various lengthy leaps of faith but which high-concept thriller doesn’t?
Non-Stop is constructed with enough creativity and energy to cover for its stupid moments, the brisk editing keeps the heart-pounding pace afloat and the screenplay remains viscerally interesting, at least up until we get to the obligatory reveal behind the terrorist’s identity and motivations.
As the Agatha Christie mystery of "which token A-list movie star (Julianne Moore) and bevy of character actors is the bad guy?" comes to a close, all we get is the predictable reveal of the villain with a noble yet insane cause, who monologues instead of taking a second to execute the plan he or she worked years to perfect, giving Bill just enough time to embark on an unremarkable but bound to be audience-pleasing fight scene.
By the way, the one truly exciting fight sequence takes place much earlier in the movie as Bill has to take someone out inside the tiny airplane bathroom. The creative use of the small space is impressive.
As far as the big reveal goes, it’s hard to blame the movie for what it is, a mid-budget crowd pleaser. There wasn’t any way the climax was going to match the intensity of the build-up. I would have preferred the mystery to remain unresolved a-la Duel, but a studio picture such as Non-Stop can’t afford the luxury of artistic ambiguity.
I think producer Joel Silver, who brought us Die Hard, still thinks we’re in his 90s heyday since the otherwise intelligent screenplay is occasionally dumbed-down with corny one-liners and a ridiculous popcorn conclusion that feels especially dated in a post-Captain Phillips world where the audience knows what post-trauma really looks like.
Non-Stop is a fairly engaging, entertaining action-thriller (More thriller, less action) that you’ll probably forget a minute after watching. Yet during the dry February season, you can do a lot worse.
P.S: Even though Non-Stop is pretty decent, the Key & Peele sketches surrounding a couple of overexcited valet attendants obsessed with "Liam Neesons" are vastly more fun to watch, and they’re free. You can find them on Youtube. Below is the skit culminating with the inevitable Liam Neesons cameo appearance.