‘Non-Stop’ Is No Joy Ride

First thing’s first: the plot of Non-Stop is capital-I Insane. But, then again, so is the plot of Face/Off, which stands as one of the better action films of all time. While Non-Stop is not exactly of the same calibre as Face/Off, it is an entertaining enough thriller, though it’s perhaps guilty of taking itself too seriously.

In Non-Stop, Liam Neeson plays Bill Marks, a hero who is not entirely unfamiliar in the canon of gruff Liam Neeson action heroes. He has a young daughter, appears to be something of a loner and, as we learn in practically the first shot of the film, he’s got a pretty serious drinking problem. But, no worries, because the government provides him with a badge and a gun because Bill Marks is a Federal Air Marshall.

True to its title, there is only a very little expository dialogue before the action begins: Marks receives a text message that someone on the London-bound flight will die every 20 minutes until $150 million is transferred into a mysterious bank account. From there we are off. Bill goes about investigating while his seat-mate Jen (Julianne Moore) asks plot-forwarding questions and flight attendant Nancy (Michelle Dockery) makes doe eyes. Lupita Nyong’o also appears in the film, in a role that surely would have been expanded, had the film’s producers known she’d be nominated for an Academy Award by the time the film came out.

Though Non-Stop has its weaknesses, its cast is certainly not one. In fact, I’m not sure if it’s crazier that Non-Stop stars three Oscar nominees or that Julianne Moore has yet to win her statuette. The film’s flight is also peppered with familiar faces like Corey Stoll, Scoot McNairy, Nate Parker and Linus Roache, upon each of whom suspicion is cast at some point or another during the film, but more on that later.

Tensions begin to mount as it is discovered that the bank account in question is in Marks’ name and the mysterious texter, obviously in control at this point, reveals that there is also a bomb on the flight. Things get worse for Marks when on-board televisions pick up a report from New York 1’s Pat Kiernan identifying Marks as the plane’s hijacker. (Note: I can’t even get NY1 at my apartment in Astoria, but it comes through just fine over the north Atlantic? What gives, Time Warner?) Anyway, where was I? Right, the passengers mutiny and the rest is (fictional) history.

With each plot twist, more implausible than the last, there is more tension in the writers’ room than on the screen, where countless pencils must have been snapped, as the film’s writers desperately devised ways to write themselves out of each new corner.

The film’s climax is exciting enough, though the villain’s eventual unmasking comes without any surprise, owing to the fact that the film has spent its entire duration casting suspicion on every single person on board, including a small child whose only crime is maybe looking a little bit like Marks’ daughter. Then, Non-Stop goes and commits its only truly unforgivable sin, which is to spout a “message” though it lacks the spine to actually say the words directly.

It’s an admirable effort on Neeson’s part, who is almost always entertaining to watch in some capacity. And Non-Stop does contain some genuinely entertaining action sequences. But under the weight of an implausible plot building to a hokey denouement, this film suffers from an ultimate failure to launch.