“Non-Stop†has awkward trajectory

“Non-Stop†has awkward trajectory

By Karsten Burgstahler

You’ve heard of “Snakes on a Plane.” But have you ever heard of Liam Neeson on a plane? That’s probably how the pitch went down for Neeson’s “Non-Stop” (Rated PG-13; 106 Min.), his newest collaboration with “unknown” director Jaume Collet-Serra. While “unknown” plopped Neeson into a “Bourne Identity” scenario with rather campy but surprisingly good results, “Non-Stop” isn’t so lucky in its attempt to freshen a tired genre.

Neeson stars as Liam Neeson in his role as air marshal Bill Marks, because really it doesn’t matter what generic name the writers slap on the character, it’s Neeson’s persona that takes over. He’s been typecast into playing the aging super agent capable of taking down anyone in his path, and while he’s a bit more reserved here, “Non-Stop” lacks the tight scripting and editing of “Taken.”

Marks has a past that he’s tried to drown with a drinking habit. As he boards his London-bound flight he receives a message from someone on his private network connection informing him that unless $150 million is wired to an account, someone will die on the plane every 20 minutes.


Collet-Serra takes a stab at a “Murder on the Orient Express” style thriller in the air — every passenger could be the killer. The usual suspects are here: the nervous flier, the hot-head, the couple interested in joining the mile-high club, the child flying by herself on a plane for the first time. The first half of the film is held hostage by the numerous camera shots to passengers with shifty looks on their faces.

The one highlight in the first hour is a tense battle in an airplane bathroom. Collet-Serra and his cinematographer Flavio Labiano shoot the sequence in a series of extreme close-ups that provide the suspense the film fails to build elsewhere.

The film also uses text-message conversations between Neeson and his suspect to build tension, but just as technology has allowed us to become disconnected from personality, so does “Non-Stop” remove the personal tension of an ominous voice on the other end of the line. Looking at words isn’t suspenseful.

Things start to improve in the film’s mid-section, where the writers finally attribute traits to the characters. The audience gets background info on the pasts and insecurities of characters played by Julianne Moore and Corey Stoll, giving them a better degree of development than Neeson ever receives. And the movie does play on some of the stereotypes it sets up at the beginning.

But just as Collet-Sara starts adding some unique twists on the genre, he lets the climax slip out of his grasp into a muddled twist held down by so much last-minute exposition that the movie quickly uses the goodwill it built up during the second act. Normally it would be easy to forgive a Neeson flick — after all, no one promised “Non-Stop” would be a masterpiece — but this movie doesn’t use Neeson to his full potential.

Neeson does seem to be enjoying himself, chewing on bad dialogue and making the most of the few times he gets to be a badass. And a few of the twists early on will keep audiences guessing. It’s just a shame the movie has to flame out when it reaches the climax, a political allegory that seems too hurried; it may take some pages from “Murder on the Orient Express” but it certainly doesn’t have the same level of ending.

“Non-Stop” doesn’t exactly deliver the goods, and what cool lines it had up its sleeve it gave away in the trailer. It’s a better-than-normal thriller, but it is by no means 30,000 feet above average.


Karsten Burgstahler can be reached at [email protected], on Twitter @kburgstahler_DE or 536-3311 ext. 254.