Non-Stop review: your popcorn bucket doubles as a floatation device

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Non-Stop green light Liam Neeson

MaryAnn’s quick take…
It’s a locked-plane mystery! The text is coming from inside the plane! Well, actually… maybe it isn’t? There’s a delicious cleverness to this very silly but very entertaining flick.
I’m “biast” (pro): the trailer looked like fun
I’m “biast” (con): nothing
(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)

If you have some ghosts that need to be exorcised — metaphorically speaking, that is, such as, say, the cultural ghosts of 9/11 — and you want them to stay exorcised, you could do worse than to call on Liam Neeson. He has a very particular set of skills, you see, skills acquired over a very long career as an actor. He can be machinelike badass and lip-quiveringly flawed human at the same time. So he makes us moviegoers like him, and more importantly, he makes us trust him.

Trust that, for another instance, he will look for, he will find, and he will kill the bad guys on the New York to London Aqualantic flight who have threatened — by text to him personally — to kill a passenger every 20 minutes unless $150 million is transferred to a certain account. We need a bit of extra trust because even though Neeson’s (The Lego Movie, Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues) Bill Marks is the air marshal assigned to protect the flight — and has the slight extra advantage in the gun he’s allowed to carry on his person in the cabin — he’s also the walking personal disaster area we expect from our cinematic law-enforcement types. He’s a drunk, for one. And he smokes in the business-class bathroom, which is a federal offense.

As the captain (Linus Roache: Before the Rains, The Namesake) wonders, how do you kill someone on a crowded flight and get away with it? It’s a locked-plane mystery! The text is coming from inside the plane! Well, actually… maybe it isn’t? Because there’s a delicious sort of cleverness in what transpires next, when someone does turn up dead, right on schedule, and how that happens ups the ante considerably. Could this all be “merely” a sick prank? Or are the bad guys — or just one lone bad guy? — even more ingenious than they at first seem? Are they trying to push Marks over the edge he’s already teetering at? Because eventually the passengers start to turn on him as they prepare to pull a “Let’s roll!” on him…

The script — by relative newbies John W. Richardson, Chris Roach, and Ryan Engle — is never less than ridiculous, but Non-Stop is a helluva lot more fun than it has any right to be. (It also ultimately offers perhaps the most obvious criticism of America’s post-9/11 security theater I can recall seeing in a studio movie.) And it’s never as implausibly preposterous as director Jaume Collet-Serra’s previous film, Unknown (also with Neeson). Collet-Serra piles on the suspense, even if he does borrow that way to make texting exciting from first-series Sherlock director Paul McGuigan, and creates an effectively claustrophobic atmosphere: there’s simply no way out of this, and not even anyplace to land the damn plane over the mid Atlantic. Amidst all the usual sorts of red herrings — the Arab guy (Omar Metwally: The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 2, Rendition) is too obvious, but what about that kind of creepy hulking dude in coach (Corey Stoll: The Bourne Legacy, Midnight in Paris) — we find ourselves suspicious of everyone. Could flight attendant Nancy (Michelle Dockery: Anna Karenina, Hanna) be in on the plot? Could Marks’ seatmate, Jen (Julianne Moore: Carrie, The Kids Are All Right)?

In case you’re wondering, 12 Years a Slave’s awesome Lupita Nyong’o, who also plays a flight attendant here, has so little screen time that it’s criminal (but she could be one of the criminals, too!). That’s just about the only reason, though, to complain about this very silly but highly entertaining flick. Its cleverest touches, which are also its silliest touches, I cannot even reveal, for they would spoil. Seatbacks upright and tray tables up!

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Fri, Feb 28, 2014 4:51pm

I really like how this super serious dramatic actor just suddenly decided to become an action star… and how most of his action movies are among the best ones when they come out.

Dr. Rocketscience
Dr. Rocketscience
reply to  KingNewbs
Fri, Feb 28, 2014 5:01pm

Not really just suddenly. His participation in these kinds of movies, and his filmic output in general, spiked after Natasha Richardson’s fatal accident. I’ve long held that Liam Neeson has been choosing to take pretty much whatever work was offered him in an effort to keep himself busy, so he doesn’t have to think about it.

reply to  Dr. Rocketscience
Mon, Mar 03, 2014 8:55pm

In his recent interviews, he says much the same thing about his grief himself. He took all sorts of jobs with the general idea that his sons wouldn’t think that he was depressed, if he was busy and active.

And the movie looks exciting!

reply to  KingNewbs
Fri, Feb 28, 2014 6:43pm

…super serious dramatic actor…

Ummm…Excalibur (aka: Camelot goes to Woodstock)? Krull? Prayer for the Dying? The Dead Pool?! Darkman??!!??!?!

Yeah, he’s a great actor and has had “super serious dramatic actor roles”, but he has long had others that are most certainly not “super serious”. Taken was made before Richardson died.

He played Oscar Wilde in London in the 90’s…heard good things about that production. Wish I had gotten to see it.

Rebecca Dalmas
Rebecca Dalmas
Fri, Feb 28, 2014 9:40pm

“It also ultimately offers perhaps the most obvious criticism of
America’s post-9/11 security theater I’ve can recall seeing in a studio

We’ve travelled back and forth between the US and Europe many times, almost always with children, making the security checkpoints and procedure even more like a professional sport…and I’ve often imagined what it might look like to an alien race spying on airports: thousands of people every day lining up to show their special pass, take off their shoes and be examined, then putting everything back on again. It’s always good to have atleast one thing to laugh about while waiting in line!

Paul Wartenberg
Sat, Mar 01, 2014 2:41am

There’s only one serious question about this movie: does it have a cameo by Wesley Snipes?


Okay, okay, here’s a serious question: are there any wolves that Liam needs to punch while the plane crash-lands? Ow, stop hitting me…

MaryAnn Johanson
reply to  Paul Wartenberg
Sat, Mar 01, 2014 10:27am

No snakes on the plane, either. Sorry.

Paul Wartenberg
reply to  MaryAnn Johanson
Sat, Mar 01, 2014 11:56pm

Well, that’s because Samuel L. Jackson is a serious mutha (YOU SHUT YOUR MOUTH) I’m just talking about the baddest mofo out there (WE CAN DIG IT). He took care of those m-therf-cking snakes on that m-therf-cking plane.

Tonio Kruger
reply to  Paul Wartenberg
Sun, Apr 29, 2018 6:25pm

I’m so glad to see I’m not the only one here who remembers Passenger 57.

Sat, Mar 01, 2014 7:06pm

Yeah, somehow I think after tomorrow Nyong’o won’t need to do tiny parts like this any more. I hope, anyway.

Air Marshals: now we can guarantee that there’s a gun on the plane!

reply to  RogerBW
Mon, Mar 03, 2014 2:19pm

The Oscars and other awards aren’t a guarantee of future, bigger, better employment; just ask Linda Hunt, George Chakiris, and F. Murray Abraham. Unfortunately.

reply to  LaSargenta
Mon, Mar 03, 2014 2:31pm

Granted. I assume Lupita Nyong’o has the same five year window of “young and pretty” as any other actress, after which she tries to go for one of the tiny number of parts for women that aren’t “yound and pretty”. But I can dream.