It's hard to resent a film that knows that it's meant to be fun and takes that obligation seriously, and that's exactly what you get with the latest Liam Neeson action flick, Non-Stop, directed by Jaume Collet-Serra (Unknown, Orphan), a hit-and-miss director who has created both abysmal, House of Wax, and awesome, Orphan.
Non-Stop is almost squarely in the middle, a mostly entertaining action thriller with an abundance of familiar story threads that are entertainingly brought to life thanks to Neeson's spot-on instincts about where this film is really supposed to go. Neeson plays Bill Marks, a whiskey chugging federal air marshal who isn't particularly fond of flying and who has so much life baggage that it's likely he couldn't afford to fly on most major airlines. Marks is a not exactly effective daddy with unresolved grief issues and a sort of apathetic approach to his job that he still manages to do fairly well. A good majority of Non-Stop takes place on, you guessed it, a non-stop flight from New York to London. The flight includes a slew of characters we're introduced to rather quickly yet effectively including air hostess Nancy (Michelle Dockery, Downton Abbey) , stewardess Gwen (current 12 Years a Slave Oscar nominee Lupita Nyong'o), the stressed out businesswoman Jen (Julianne Moore), obnoxiously macho Austin (Corey Stoll, House of Cards), and the obligatory fidgety guy you can't help but suspect of something (Scoot McNairy, Argo) among others.
It's not long into the flight when Marks starts receiving text messages on his supposedly secure phone. The mysterious person wants $150 million wired into an offshore account or he's going to start killing one person every 20 minutes. It also just so happens that the person has done a rather adequate job of framing Marks for the entire thing.
Writers Chris Roach, John W. Richardson, and Ryan Engle are essentially dependent upon the central idea that waiting for the truth to actually be revealed will actually be worth both the journey and the destination despite the frequent lunacy of the set-up and the often preposterous notion of the film's assertions.
For the most part, the wait is absolutely worth it even if the pay-off is really more fun than actual suspense.
Liam Neeson, who seems like he's abandoned the more critically recognized cinematic fare as of late, is both a quality actor and a decently convincing action star. He knows how to make the most of this character and this situation and, in his hands, Non-Stop is both non-stop silly and non-stop fun.
If you're searching for realism, you're going to find Non-Stop a disappointment. While any number of actors, I'm looking at you Michael Caine, would sleepwalk through this kind of film, Non-Stop actually works far more than you might expect precisely because Neeson is clearly invested here and he takes the rest of the ensemble cast with him. Julianne Moore and Corey Stoll are particularly effective here, though Michelle Dockery will be a joy to behold for those who remember her from Downton Abbey. On the flip side, Nyong'o's appearance is a bit more "blink and you'll miss it," a not surprising thing given that 12 Years a Slave has pretty much exploded her onto the Hollywood scene.
There's a part of me that really wants to refer to Non-Stop as a B-movie, but that's not really fair to the film or to B-movies. This film is obviously working with a much higher budget than your average B-movie and, as a result, you kind of get a B-movie vibe amidst your more traditional megaplex type action flick.
If you found 3 Days to Kill a disappointment, then Non-Stop should fill the need for a good old-fashioned escapist popcorn flick. By no means perfect, and frequently way imperfect, Non-Stop is pretty darn close to non-stop fun even when you're shaking your head in disbelief.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic