Friday, February 28, 2014

Non-Stop


NON-STOP: Liam Neeson, Julianna Moore, directed by Jaume Collet-Sera (106 min.)

Non-Stop, the latest annual first-quarter action thriller from the always watchable Liam Neeson, isn't the type of movie to waste it's time on character development.  We have a plot to get to.  We meet our hero, Bill Marks (Neeson), pouring some bourbon in his coffee, taking a drink, and touching a picture of his little daughter before leaving his car at an airport parking lot.  That about sums up everything you need to know about Bill, who is a Federal Air Marshal on a flight to London.  He goes through security, carefully sizing up passengers and mentally ranking them on levels of suspicion, and helps coach a little girl flying solo onto the plane.  A scattered woman named Jen (Julianne Moore) sits down next to him.  Lights go down, people fall asleep.  And then, Bill gets a series of curious texts on his phone, informing him that unless $150 million is deposited into a certain account number, someone on the plane will die every twenty minutes.

Bill is immediately suspicious, and begins to quietly investigate although Jen seated next to him suspects something is happening.  Then, people begin dying, but not in the way one would expect.  One of the more creative ways is the way passengers begin dropping while simultaneously making it seem like Bill is responsible.  He communicates with his superiors on the ground who inform him the account number in the text is actually in his name.  I won't go into mechanics because that is all Non-Stop is about, the machinations of plot and mystery.  From the beginning the camera makes certain passengers a priority, and they reappear throughout as Bill's investigation gets more desperate.

There are whisperings, and nervous chatter among the flight attendants, and then Bill must address the passengers directly to try and find out who is behind these texts.  He grows more and more paranoid with everyone around him, including Jen, and suspects come and go as the camera and the story desires.  There are clever twists and turns within the machine that is Non-Stop, until the third act kicks into gear and the action and desperation hits eleven.  The guilty parties are revealed and suffer a bad case of the "talking killer syndrome" where they explain their entire list of motives instead of simply killing the hero.  The climax is wild and exciting, but completely ridiculous if you sit back and think about it.  But that's the thing, this isn't a film to think about; just take a deep breath and enjoy the ride.

All sorts of issues with logic come into play.  Once Bill's investigative techniques with certain passengers is sent to a news outlet on the ground via video phone, he is branded a Marshal-turned-terrorist and his alcoholism is laid out by reporters.  With such an unstable past, doesn't it seem strange Bill would get a job as an Air Marshal in the first place?  On top of that, this is the type of thriller where the killers/bad guys seem to be so many steps ahead of everyone else they should be tested for mental telepathy.  One specific plot point seems plausible only if the baddies had access to the plane before they even boarded, which is impossible in my book.  But despite all of that I kept telling myself "so what?  I'm enjoying myself here."

Neeson seems to pump out one of these action films in January or February every year, the best one of the bunch being The Grey (yes, better than Taken).  I like the idea of Neeson delivering some popcorn thrills in what is typically a flat and uninspired time of year for movies.  Non-Stop isn't one of the best of that small sample but it is certainly better than the drab and watered down Unknown.  Logical flaws aside, logical flaws stacked in a big, massive heap, this is a fine picture thanks in no small part to the dedication of Neeson to keep us entertained.

B-