Even a depressed, alcoholic Liam Neeson is someone you don’t want to mess with.
The latest in a long line of early-in-the-year releases from the 61-year-old Neeson, “Non-Stop” is a Hitchcockian murder mystery set at 30,000 feet. Bill Marks (Liam Neeson) is a burned-out air marshal on a flight from New York to London. Going about his usual flight routine of drowning his sorrows and smoking in the bathroom of the plane, he receives a series of text messages from an unknown origin claiming that unless $150 million is transferred to an account, someone on the plane will die every 20 minutes. As he tries to discover the assailant’s identity, the air marshal himself is implicated as a terrorist.
After films like “Taken” and “The Grey” have cemented Liam Neeson as a man’s man, we’ve come to expect these winter action tales where he gravely threatens someone or beats up a room full of men. While “Non-Stop” does have a couple of fights, the setting limits the carnage a good bit. This results in the first 2/3 of the film mainly relying on suspense, which it does rather well. A crowded plane is a small place to get away with murder, but when you are one of 150 suspects anonymity can be your friend.
What makes the guessing game interesting is that the film has a pretty good cast of secondary characters, none of which has an identifiable motive. Aside from Neeson the film features Julianne Moore, Scoot McNairy, recent Oscar winner Lupita Nyong’o, Linus Roache, Anson Mount and a few other faces that stick out.
Part of the reason why Neeson has been so successful with these 50+ male action movies is because he is great at playing a character with a tortured soul and playing villains, both of which come into play one way or another. We really don’t get to see much about Bill Marks aside from a news report that profiles him at one point in the film, but Neeson sells the character.
Just so you don’t think this is an entirely character-driven movie, there are a few good action sequences and some of the kills are well done. The former, however, is choppy most likely to hide the fact that Liam Neeson is 61. I don’t care what age he is, grabbing and shooting a gun in zero gravity is about the coolest thing I can think of.
As is often the case with films like this where the premise is promising, the film starts to lose steam somewhere around the start of the third act. There isn’t anything too far-fetched considering the genre, but in order to escalate the stakes and move the film along, a few less-than-plausible things happen. These would be fairly easy to overcome if the reveal of the killer was better, but even that doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. The motive behind the attack is silly and, when you think about it, unravels some of the really good things the film was doing for the majority of its duration.
“Non-Stop” stumbles at the end, but the first 80 minutes or so are solid suspense and Neeson brings some real class to the film. When your only other choices right now for action or suspense are “Robocop” and “3 Days to Kill”, “Non-Stop” could be just the ticket.