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Entries in Non-stop [2014] (1)

Friday
Feb282014

Non-Stop (2014)

Red Herring Flight to London

I don't know what it is about 2014, but my education in movie-release-date science has been aggressive and mind-blowing. When it comes to mainstream fare, late-winter really is the dead season--but not because the films on offer are terrible (necessarily): more than likely, they're the mega-budget misfires that are just a tad too thinky for blockbuster season, but which smell way too much of popcorn for the Oscar quarter. I, Frankenstein was an off-brand comic-book movie; Robocop was the remake nobody wanted; 3 Days to Kill was so dumb it thought it was smart; and now we have Non-Stop, a Liam Neeson actioner too dusty and self-contained to spawn a franchise, and too boring to compete with real comic-book movies and sequels.

In short, if you think, "Oh, this looks cool. Maybe they're kicking off summer way early this year," sit back down, and save your money for Captain America 2

Neeson plays Bill Marks, a divorced, alcoholic U.S. Air Marshal who hates flying. While on an international flight to London, he receives a series of text messages from someone aboard the plane. If this person doesn't receive a $150 million wire transfer, they claim, a passenger will die every twenty minutes. If you've seen the trailers, you know that Marks himself becomes the prime suspect, and it would have been nice of writers John W. Richardson, Christopher Roach, and Ryan Engle to introduce that idea gradually--or, better yet, make us truly believe it as a possible outcome. Instead, we know pretty much from the start that there is a genuine bad guy involved, and that, frankly, the filmmakers only care about landing the plane safely so Neeson and fellow traveler Julianne Moore can share relieved, platonic smiles.

The problem (and I suspect this has something to do with two of the writers' previous lives as reality-TV creators) is that not only is absolutely everybody a suspect--from the passengers to the stewardesses to the shifty-eyed co-pilot (Jason Butler Harner)--but that we literally spend minutes on end with a healthy percentage of people on the plane. We bounce back and forth, back and forth, back and forth between suspicion and acquittal more frequently than a trans-Atlantic airline pilot racking up overtime. It's exhausting, and leads to feelings of surrender rather than intrigue: "Just tell me who it is already, so I can start forgetting this movie on my way to the car!"

The film's single innovation, I guess, is its reliance on Final Destination-style kills. In an effort to cement his (or her) framing of Marks for the hijacking, the real terrorist arranges for people to die in seemingly accidental, or at least unavoidable, ways. From food poisoning to allergic reactions, to the hottest toilet fracas in cinema history, Non-Stop at least doesn't descend into slasher-film territory. Granted, by the second or third choking/foaming mouth, I began to crave a little poison-gas-in-the-drop-down-masks (you can have that one for free, Hollywood)--but overall, the filmmakers keep things classy.

There's another major component to the movie's head-scratching clumsiness, but I can't get into it without spoilers. So consider yourself warned, and feel free to skip ahead to the last paragraph.

Joel Silver is credited as a producer on Non-Stop, and it shows. Whether or not he was involved in day-to-day development, or simply acted as a brand-name for the sake of financing, it feels as though Neeson's character from Taken has boarded a non-stop flight to 1996--three years before Silver helped re-define action/sci-fi with The Matrix, but at the height of a career that gave us two decades' worth of macho cheese (including thrillers at 30,000 feet such as Executive Decision and Die Hard 2).

From Anson Mount's wardrobe and mullet; to the briefcase full of cocaine; to the lone Muslim passenger (Omar Metwally) who everybody fears; and the two-killers twist from Scream (hey, I warned ya), Non-Stop exists as a Tommyknockers-esque portal of half-eaten time between the golden age of corny menace and the post-9/11 era of self-seriousness. Neeson avoids the catch-phrase contagion of Air Force One and Passenger 57, although an argument could be made that his trademark glower is the new millennium's witty retort.

In fairness, I got three solid, out-loud laughs from this glacial mess. The first comes when Marks decides that the best way to alert an edgy stewardess (Michelle Dockery) to a corpse in the lavatory is to simply move out of the way and let her catch a glimpse--instead of, you know, dropping a calm, well-phrased hint or two.

Next, Marks lists "alcoholic" at the end of a long line of character flaws, while trying to convince the entire plane that he's not a maniac. One passenger takes such offense at this that they groan indignantly off-screen.

The last gut-buster comes just before the money-shot you've seen in all the previews--the one where Neeson flies backwards in slow motion, shooting at someone while the plane obviously has a giant hole in it. What they don't show is the moment where gravity takes a power nap, allowing that gun to float, force-like, into the air, next to Neeson's stern-but-kinda-confused face. I can't say much else for Jaume Collet-Serra's direction, but this two-second moment of greatness deserves its own Academy tribute.

Non-Stop isn't awful. It's just weird in a lot of bad ways--some of which are entertaining. I'd call that an improvement over much of the junk we've been asked to support at the box office lately. Still, I can't recommend trekking to the theatre to see this, when you'd have better odds renting eight or ten Red Box titles instead. Now there's a first-class idea.