|UK Release Date||28th February 2014|
|Reviewed||28th February 2014|
There are a number of things that point to the demographic that a film is aimed at; stars, director's back catalogue, etc but it's sometimes other things that catch the eye. In this case it's two things. 1 - the press screening employed beers, pizza and some stewardesses in clothing that was clearly unsuitable for a transatlantic flight serving grumpy passengers with booze they don't need and 2 - the IMDB voting stats. At time of writing, 2,106 people have voted on the film, of that number 1,564 were male and 1,942 were under the age of 29....
It's getting hard to remember a time before Liam Neeson's transformation to growling action hero - the perpetual everyman who of course is anything but. 2008's Taken was probably the turning point, a movie that sparked a thousand spoofs (Family Guy is a personal favourite - "I don't know who you are. I don't know what you want, but I have a very particular lack of skills. I will never be able to find you. But what I do have is two dollars and a Casio wristwatch. You can have one of them.") and an unusually vicious Empire review (here). I actually quite enjoyed it but it's easy to forget that at the time, Neeson appearing in such fare was something of a surprise. Fast forward five short years and he is your go-to man for unlikely action hero.
Non-Stop is probably Neeson's highest concept role so far in his action hero streak. A veteran cop turned Air Marshall who lost his family, gained an addiction to booze and fags, and somehow ended up on the worst flight since I mistakenly bought into Virgin's marketing rubbish and boarded their service to Nairobi. Once on the transatlantic flight (not, I hasten to add a Virgin plane, an 'Aqualantic' one), Neeson's Bill Marks starts to receive a series of text message threats on his secure phone that promise to start killing passengers if a sum of money isn't wired to a bank account. Things get tricky when it transpires the perpetrator knows quite a lot about Marks' troubled past and the bank account turns out to be in Marks' name....
Having swallowed the concept (you kind of have to with this sort of thing), the movie actually gets off to a pretty decent start. Marks is introduced spicing up his coffee in his car at the airport and by the time he's had a fag and made it to the plane, we're in no doubt that he is indeed 'troubled' and we've been obliquely introduced to enough passengers to suspect a few of them of the potential for dirty dealing. Once on the plane, some seat switching and a stewardess who clearly knows Marks personally and we're asking all kinds of questions about who the likely troublemaker is. For the first forty minutes or so, Non-Stop builds up as a nicely effective thriller.
I'm not sure exactly where it flopped but at some point after this, I started noticing the dialogue. As the action (such as it is within the confines of the aeroplane) ramps up and the text messages continue to ping away and float on screen, you gradually start to notice just how awful the script is. I appreciate this is an action film and I'm not expecting Shakespeare (or Marlowe if you've seen Only Lovers Left Alive) but what we're treated to here is pretty poor. At one point we get Neeson screaming "okay! I'm an alcoholic!" to the entire plane and his best shot at calming the passengers down is by yelling at them that the airline will give them free travel for a year, neither of which sounds that bad in print but believe me, up on the screen it is spectacularly jarring. It's cringeworthy stuff but not as bad as the co-pilot shrieking "Come on you wanker!" as he attempts to pull the aircraft out of a dive - he's English you see and that's how we swear over here. Apparently.
Meanwhile, what started out as a reasonable game of oooh, who could be doing this? Is it the Muslim doctor? The bodybuilder NYPD chap? The traveling salesman type? The geeky glasses guy? Gradually unravels because none of the clues really add up to anything. The final reveal (and reasoning) is so utterly random that Poirot would have bailed on the whole game. Which is a shame because elements of the movie actually make it reasonably interesting. The flawed hero thing is bludgeoned home with sledgehammer subtlety but the angle of the criminal progressively framing Marks isn't a bad one. As the finale approaches though any remaining complexity is dumped in favour of the necessary whizz-bang ending. Of the players, Neeson does exactly as you'd expect, Michele Dockery's Nancy (the stewardess) doesn't really have a massive amount to do (though substantially more than Oscar nominated Lupita Nyong'o), Julianne Moore has clearly wandered into a film way below her ability and.... well, that's it really. Everyone else is there purely to advance what plot there is.
Non-Stop isn't really a terrible film and if you enjoyed Neeson in Taken, you'll pretty much know what you're getting here. There's an attempt to make this current by tying it all in with National Security (my capitals) but I'm starting to long for the days when the bad guy was just doing it because he was bat-shit crazy, not because he's pissed at Edward Snowden. It whizzes along at a reasonable pace despite the lack of real action and I didn't resent the 106 minutes I spent with it, but it may be time for Neeson to go back to acting and leave behind his action days - he's clearly a much better actor than this growling requires. Worth a look then if you're desperate for some high concept nonsense and you're a male aged between 18 and 29, otherwise, save your cash and catch it on Netflix.
Check out the trailer here.