sat 13/04/2024

Non-Stop | reviews, news & interviews



Airborne, asinine heroics with Liam Neeson and Julianne Moore

At some point during Non-Stop - a mostly serviceable though increasingly nuts peril-on-a-plane movie - I began to doubt that Liam Neeson had ever had a credible career. Recently we've seen him starring in assorted nonsense such as Battleship and Wrath of the Titans and if you go back a few years you'll recall him looking bored in The Phantom Menace.

But what we've gotten particularly used to is Neeson as the middle-aged action man, the skull cruncher from the pretty hideous Taken movies. There might have been a time when we thought he was elevating such films with his presence, but I think that time has passed.

Perhaps the movie that best sums the situation up is identity theft thriller Unknown where everyone seems to forget who Neeson really is and when he's appealing to them he may as well be saying, "Look, guys, it's me, don't you remember Schindler's List?"

Anyway, here's Action Jackson again, or rather Action Neeson. Visibly shaken from years of making bad movies, in Non-Stop he's "taken" to the booze. Colour me not terrifically surprised. Years ago in the original Die Hard Bruce Willis gave the action genre a much needed shot of adrenalin by being a not-particularly-musclebound guy who quipped about his lousy predicaments, whereas Neeson - brows knit, sense of humour expunged - seems determined to take action films back for po-faced people everywhere.

Snarking aside, Non-Stop actually starts fairly promisingly. Neeson stars as US Air Marshal Bill Marks who, as the film begins, is sitting outside an NYC terminal in his car, splashing whisky into his coffee cup. Entering the airport he sizes-up his fellow passengers with bleary-eyed regard; he's going through the motions in preparation for his duties but with his judgement impaired and his authority called into question from the outset. Marks is protecting a transatlantic flight to London, overseen by air hostesses Nancy (Downton's Michelle Dockery - about as animated here as she is there) and Gwen (12 Years a Slave's Lupita Nyong'o). Fellow passengers of note are the mysterious Jen (Julianne Moore, pictured above right), the shifty Tom (Scoot McNairy) and the bullish Austin (Corey Stoll from House of Cards).

The less you know about the plot the more you'll enjoy the film (and you might want to avoid the trailer too if you're eager to stay in the dark) but it all begins when Bill receives a series of messages on a secure channel which threaten the lives of fellow passengers unless he arranges a large transfer of funds - this in turn prompts a series of nail-biting countdowns and, of course, twists. The film knits together an Agatha Christie-esque whodunit (Death in the Clouds clearly provides inspiration) with an airborne hijacking flick and a typical Neeson actioner. The contained environment encourages narrative invention and at least nixes the possibility of a car chase, and limits the number of gun fights.

Yet ultimately the desire to constantly confound drags Non-Stop down increasingly stupid paths and the movie goes from being tight and intriguing to dunderheaded. Neeson doesn't give us anything here we haven't seen from him too many times before. However, the ever radiant Moore is necessarily odd and I enjoyed her character's lurking and clandestine consumption of vodka. It's a movie that seems to require a lot of booze to get through, for both its characters and - in all probability - its audience. And after her triumphant introduction in 12 Years a Slave it's disheartening to see Nyong'o in such a meagre role - she has about four lines, delivered in a wavering British accent.

What the aforementioned Unknown and Non-Stop also share is a helmsman, the Spanish director Jaume Collet-Serra, who's also known for a couple of histrionic horrors - one quite good (Orphan - boasting quite the twist) and one pretty bad (the House of Wax remake). Here Collet-Serra ratchets up the suspense ably but the action is sometimes incoherent (a possible consequence of making a family friendly action film, which wants to pack a punch but which simultaneously needs to mask its violence), and he's prone to distractingly daft uses of slow-mo for both moments of action and reaction.

Non-Stop is as entertainingly urgent as the title suggests but just don't go in expecting an action classic. This is a film of initial, fleeting promise and ultimate, prolonged idiocy - one where after a while nothing makes sense and eventually things reach such a crescendo of lunacy that someone ends up calling the plane a wanker.

Overleaf: watch the trailer for Non-Stop



Editor Rating: 
Average: 3 (1 vote)

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