by M. Faust
“This is a bad time for me,” our hero snarls into the phone to an uncooperative superior. He’s not telling us anything we haven’t already figured out, from the shot of glove-compartment whiskey he knocks back before leaving his car in the airport parking lot to the three days growth of beard, from the bags under his eyes to the cigarette he cradles like a lover headed off to a battle from which he doesn’t expect to return.
Welcome to Non-Stop, this year’s Liam Neeson movie. By which I mean not simply a movie in which Liam Neeson appears—there are a few of those most years—but the annual entry in a genre that no one would have believed possible a decade ago, the Liam Neeson Action Hero movie. There wasn’t one in 2013, but to make up for it this year we get two: this and, come September, A Walk Among the Tombstones, adapted from one of Buffalo native Lawrence Block’s hard-boiled detective novels featuring the alcoholic private eye Matt Scudder.
Artvoice film editor M. Faust will be live-Tweeting the Academy Awards this Sunday night. Join him at @MondoFausto or on his Facebook page.
At 61, Neeson may seem to be a bit old for this kind of thing. But his age gives him a gravitas you won’t find in the oeuvre of, say, Jason Statham. And it keeps the filmmakers from pushing the limits of plausibility in an action movie, favoring plot over firearms and fisticuffs.
Neeson plays Bill Marks, an overworked federal marshal on an overseas flight to London. Halfway through—which is to say, halfway over the Atlantic Ocean—he starts getting text messages from someone on board who wants $150 million. Until he gets it, he will kill one passenger every 20 minutes. Even worse, he’s setting the whole thing up to make it look to the feds on the ground like Marks himself is the terrorist.
(That may seem like I’m giving away a lot of the plot, but it’s nothing that isn’t in the trailer.)
As produced by Hollywood’s slam-bang master Joel Silver and directed by Jaume Collet-Serra (of Neeson’s 2011 offering Unknown), Non-Stop is the kind of breathless entertainment that Hollywood should be making all the time. Passangers and crewmembers who variously help and hinder Marks are played by a cast that includes Julianne Moore, Michelle Dockery (Downton Abbey’s Lady Mary), Corey Stoll (ill-fated Congressman Peter Russo from season one of House of Cards) and the voice of Shea Whigham, who has been in every other popular cable show running these days (including Boardwalk Empire, where he plays Eli).
It wasn’t until the audience was filtering out of the screening that it occurred to me that Non-Stop doesn’t exactly tie up all of its loose ends. Back in the day, a movie with a plot this tricky would make a point of showing you how it all worked, as if to assure us that the writers really had a handle on everything. I’m not sure that’s the case here, and at a relatively trim 105 minutes they could have afforded taking a few more to explain some of the vaguer aspects. But these days it’s all about the momentum, and Non-Stop certainly doesn’t lack for that.
Watch the trailer for Non-Stop
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