Review: Non-Stop (2014)

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Director: Jaume Collet-Serra
Screenwriter: Ryan Engle, John W. Richardson & Christopher Roach
Cast: Liam Neeson, Julianne Moore, Scott McNairy, Michelle Dockery, Nate Parker, Corey Stoll, Lupita Nyong’o & Omar Metwally
Runtime: 106 min // Certificate: 12a

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jiHDJ19A3dk]

It’s easy, admittedly, to dismiss Non-Stop as “Taken on a plane” but, just like it’s easy to dismiss Air Force One as “Die Hard on a plane”, the reason for this is because it’s true. Starring aging action hero Liam Neeson in yet another “broken man seeks redemption” thriller, Collet-Serra’s film is little more than a mishmash of increasingly tired-and-tested ideas that have been thrown together with the sole purpose of further capitalising on the worn-out, Expendables-esque shtick that Neeson has been engaging in since mid-2008.

With films like this there’s generally a tendency to combine crude simplicity with baffling convolution, thus resulting in an experience that can’t help but disappoint in the long run. It’s best to go in to such films with a jaded resignation that the final act will never be able to live up to the promise of the premise, though still we live in vain hope that the 5781 red-herrings will all be worth it in the end. Non-Stop is no different, though in this case the preposterous nature of the enterprise is somehow taken to even greater extremes than usual. It of course doesn’t help that when Julianne Moore’s character asks Neeson about his daughter, you half-expect him to regale her with tales of kidnap and extortion in Paris and Istanbul, such is the film’s overreliance on the audience’s foreknowledge of Neeson’s antics over the past few years.

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The central concept is solid enough of course; alcoholic air-marshal Bill Marks (Neeson) receives a message from one of the people on his flight to London, informing him that a passenger or crew-member will die every 20 minutes until $150million is transferred to the killer’s bank account. Marks, with the assistance of reluctant air-hostess Nancy Hoffman (Dockery) and fellow passenger Jen Summers (Moore), sets about an interrogation of the 150-plus potential suspects, all while random characters keep dropping dead around him. So far, so good then…

Unfortunately, you already know before the film even starts that the initial thrills just will not last the distance. The main problem here is that Non-Stop feels like a poor man’s version of Flightplan, so much so that it even stars the poor man’s version of Jodie Foster. It doesn’t help matters that Flightplan was wank anyway, so the comparison really ain’t pretty. After a passable start, the three writers (yep, that’s right, it took three of them…) soon crank up the contrivances to such an extent that not only do you not know what’s going on anymore, you also don’t care. Characters act suspiciously to throw you off the true scent, Marks gets accusations of complicity thrown at him from all angles, and Jen drinks herself into a minor panic because, well, she’s troubled don’t cha know!

And therein lays the crux of the problem; for the first half-an-hour or so I sat there willing everything on. Like, I genuinely wanted it to work. I was mildly invested in the plot because the core mystery was interesting; I wanted to know who had dared to threaten Liam Neeson; I wanted to know why Julianne Moore simply had to sit by the window; I even wanted to know what the Hell Peter Russo was up to… alas, it soon became clear that the needs of the audience didn’t matter one jot. The impenetrable, unsolvable nature of the mystery meant that the film quickly ran out of steam. The writers were going to throw logic, rationale and realism (to the extent that realism can even exist in a film like this) clean out of the window and you would have no choice but to be taken along on the ride, whether you like it or not.

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Non-Stop’s biggest crime, however, is that it feels so dated. It isn’t just a poor man’s Flightplan, it’s also about a decade too late. There’s a whole heap of stuff about post-9/11 airline security thrown in, perhaps to try and provide the story with some much needed credibility, yet it is so behind the times that you have to wonder if it isn’t just one massive pisstake. I mean, are we seriously making films about the impact of 9/11 on air-travel in 2014? I know 9/11 was a major event that pretty much changed things forever but come on… I’d have preferred no subtext whatsoever to the pile of shite the writers ultimately tried to feed us.

Now, none of this might be a problem for you; fair enough. Alas, despite my appreciation for the barmy action genre, Non-Stop left me feeling terribly bored. There are a few laughs, a couple of great set-pieces and Liam Neeson does his best with some borderline offensive material but on the whole, Non-Stop is just a non-starter. It has an entertaining, easy charm which is nice enough, but the characters are so one-dimensional (the first shot of Neeson, for example, is of him drinking whisky from a coffee cup, BECAUSE HE’S AN ALCOHOLIC, HE’S TROUBLED AND HE HATES FLYING, OBVIOUSLY), the twists are so farcical and the screenplay is so painful that I simply couldn’t take much real enjoyment from any of it.

Ultimately, Non-Stop is just disappointing all-round though hey, at least it’s better than Taken 2… that, however, isn’t really an achievement, let’s be honest.

★★

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