Wesley Emblidge ’17 / Emertainment Monthly Staff Writer
With films like Taken, The A-Team, The Grey, and more, Liam Neeson has made himself into one of the biggest action stars at the age of 61. Today, most blockbusters have to rely on something more than just star power, but Neeson’s name tacked onto a small thriller has led to hit after hit. (In fact, when he acts in a supporting role in a more conventional blockbuster, the movies typically fail.) Non-Stop is the latest of these films, from director Jaume Collet-Serra (who worked with Neeson on Unknown in 2011 and has another film with the star lined up), and it shows Neeson taking this action persona a bit too far, but not so far that it ruins the movie.
The plot is a bit over the top, essentially a mix of Speed and Air Force One, with Neeson as a troubled alcoholic air marshal who is framed for a plot to hijack the plane he’s flying on. He receives threats on his phone (with the nifty on-screen texts seen in Fruitvale Station and House of Cards, among other things) from a passenger threatening to kill someone on the plane every 20 minutes unless $150 million are transferred into a bank account for them. As with most thrillers like this, there are unforeseen complications and plot twists, but they are even more preposterous here than in your average action movie.
The plot isn’t what makes this film interesting. Rather, it’s rather convoluted but still leaves the film to be entertaining. What’s simultaneously fascinating and bizarre is the way Neeson plays his now trademarked character this time around. From the start of the film, he overreacts to everything, usually with violence, as if Collet-Serra was urging him on to try and make things exciting.
Instead, he comes off as a mildly deranged man with extreme anger management issues (not to mention someone making a lot of very poor choices), which isn’t exactly what we want out of a hero in a morally complex situation like this. The character tries to solve problems just by yelling and hitting people, which is exciting for a while but becomes dull eventually. Neeson has even parodied the persona with his small role as Bad Cop in this year’s The Lego Movie. In this case, you could almost argue he’s doing the same thing.
Luckily he’s held up by a great supporting cast, most of whom are slumming it here. The plane is populated with the likes of Julianne Moore, Scoot McNairy, Michelle Dockery, Corey Stoll, and the oddest of the bunch, current Oscar nominee Lupita Nyong’o, with just a few lines as a flight attendant. Aside from that, the film does manage to overcome its general silliness and be legitimately tense and exciting at times. Collet-Serra makes great use of using simple glances between characters to build tension and shoots much of the film in an eerie blue look.
Still, the entire movie remains pretty ridiculous and takes itself a bit too seriously. And by the end, when the villain’s intentions are revealed in one of the most groan-worthy, self-important speeches ever seen onscreen, it’s hard to take any of it seriously at all. As an entry in the “badass Liam Neeson” canon it’s a minor one, but that still makes it worth checking out.
Overall Grade: C+