Saturday, March 1, 2014

Review: "Non-Stop"

Director: Jaume Collet-Serra
Runtime: 106 minutes

It seemed only natural that Liam Neeson thrillers would eventually grow wings and take to the skies. Yet who would have thought that the result would be so engaging, despite the increasing levels of preposterousness? After several misses (Taken 2, Unknown), Mr. Neeson's stock as an action hero gets a boost in this Hitchcock-lite bottle movie, thanks to some dynamic directing and effectively managed suspense. 

When we first meet Air Marshal Bill Marks (Neeson), he's drinking whiskey in his car at an airport parking lot. As director Jaume Collet-Serra quickly sketches out with visual cues, Bill isn't doing so hot at the moment, what with the drinking problem and the estranged daughter. The rest of the work is simply up to Neeson, who, at 61, is still capable of effortlessly commanding the screen with all of his 6'4 frame. 

A good thing, too, seeing as much of the movie's first half is comprised of Marks facing off against some anonymous text messages. Aboard a flight to London, Marks learns that someone plans to kill off a passenger every 20 minutes until $150 million is transferred into an account (almost as frightening as actual online banking transfers). 

Rather than immediately go into action, Non-Stop decides to have fun with the mystery portion of its story. Collet-Serra and his cast (including Julianne Moore and Downton Abbey's Michelle Dockery) are all incredibly game in their approach to such middle of the road material. Non-Stop won't go down as one of the great modern thrillers, but it has enough fun with its concept to ensure that the ride is involving, rather than tedious. 

While not oppressively dark, Non-Stop's willingness to keep itself largely grounded is part of what makes it so easy to engage with. Even the more ludicrous elements of the story, which only rear their heads near the very end, are kept to a minimum. Instead of a bevy of over-the-top stunts, Non-Stop has only one, and Collet-Serra hardly drags it out or indulges the moment. 

Perhaps the lone disappointment is the eventual revelation of the killer's identity. Though the grandstanding and monologuing is kept in check, the killer's motivation is almost staggeringly stupid, and undermines the tension that should have driven the climactic action sequences. Had the whole movie been of drastically lower quality, the insanity of the villain's motivation could have provided some level of nonsensical cinematic glee. Instead, it puts a bit of a damper on a otherwise solidly assembled, B-level thriller. 

Yet, by the time the final moments, which don't overstay their welcome, roll around, it's difficult to be too angry about Non-Stop's flaws. Suspension of disbelief is key to a movie like Non-Stop, and thankfully everyone involved has largely done their best to make this an accommodating vehicle for that suspension. No one will care about the film in a a matter of weeks, but as movie-of-the-week escapism, Non-Stop gets more than enough right at the surface level to be worth the time. 

Grade: B-/C+

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