By Shane M. Dallmann
Bill Marks (Liam Neeson) sits in his car and stares at a bottle of Scotch before he reluctantly makes his way to his flight (we soon learn that he’s an armed Federal Marshal). Along the path, he encounters a variety of supporting characters, any of whom might be a suspect in the drama to come (except for the scared little girl, of course). He eventually gets Julianne Moore as a seatmate (she’s desperate to get the window seat she was promised but denied) and tells her about the lucky ribbon he’s wearing that used to belong to his daughter. Now you know everything you need to know about Neeson’s character, but you’re still going to get the heart-rending revelations and soliloquy at a much later point in the film. You’ll also get a villainous soliloquy designed to promote passionate debate amongst the audience members… well, all of the above made me roll my eyes as the corn piled up high around me.
But… nobody really goes to see a movie like NON-STOP for all that. If you’re intrigued by the premise (person or persons unknown targets Marks with a threat to kill somebody aboard the plane every twenty minutes unless certain demands are met; Marks finds it extraordinarily difficult to prove that he’s not the culprit himself) then you’re going to get your payoff. Director Jaume Collet-Serra is certainly one I’ve been keeping my eye on… he went from the HOUSE OF WAX “remake” to the extraordinary ORPHAN before moving on to “the Liam Neeson thriller of the month” with UNKNOWN and now NON-STOP (which, for some reason, is NOT a Dark Castle production). And regardless of genre, he stays true to his form with a slow, methodical suspense buildup punctuated by bursts of concentrated violence. And while it’s certainly harder to make this approach work without the benefit of either horror trappings or exotic backdrops, he and the cast play off each other quite effectively throughout, making NON-STOP a decent thriller in which it’s never as easy to identify who’s behind it all as you might think.
What keeps the film from reaching its full potential is its careful avoidance of all of the social-political-ethnic-religious issues that ought to be setting the terrified passengers at each other’s throats (instead of mainly Neeson’s)… these are certainly hinted at (one such passenger is, of course, a Muslim with a traditional headdress) but they’re shied away from just as quickly… a last-minute speech is no substitute, and neither is a frightened little girl that gives our hero a chance to… oh, well, you already knew where that was going. A little less of the corn and a little more of the hot chili could have made NON-STOP a crackerjack. As it stands? It’s passable and well-made. I just hope Collet-Serra pulls out ALL the stops next time around.