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” (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!