May 11, 2015

[Movies] Non-Stop (2014)

As much as Liam Neeson first blipped on my entertainment radar as the tragic hero in Darkman, which was a pretty action-oriented and highly physical role. But later on he went into a number of dramas and period movies and it became easy to forget that he had been an action hero of sorts once upon a time. But I think things really started to shift after the success of Taken, which really helped him stand out as this older, intense man with a specific set of skills and a million ways to kill people tucked under his belt.

So now we have a good number of Taken sequels and other movies like this one, Non-Stop, which continue to find ways to make Liam Neeson look a tough and intense in an already tense situation. This movie actually has a lot of the same elements as Taken, but instead the action all takes place on a plane.

Exploring the nuances of airline safety in a post-9/11 world has become a common trope in Hollywood and this movie continues to play on that. And while I can't vouch for the accuracy of how things were portrayed here, I guess it at least made for some decent level of entertainment. My bigger issue was with the mystery angle of the whole thing, which probably could have been better written.

Synopsis: Non-Stop is a mystery action thriller movie directed by Jaume Collet-Serra. The screenplay was written by John W. Ricardhson, Chris Roach, and Ryan Engle.

Bill Marks (Liam Neeson) is a somewhat troubled U.S. Air Marshall set to accompany British Aqualantic Flight 10. Shortly after take off, Bill begins to receive text messages from an unknown number with particular demands and the threat of someone on the plane dying set to be killed once every 20 minutes. Bill isn't sure whether or not to take the threat seriously, but he does begin to investigate the matter and hopefully determine who is sending these messages.

Bill eventually breaks protocol and contacts the other Air Marshall on the flight, Jack Hammond (Anson Mount). But when Bill begins to suspect that Jack might be the one behind the messages, things start to get pretty complicated. And as the flight stretches on and more people die, it becomes evident that our mystery killer is also creating a trail of evidence meant to discredit Bill and make it appear as if he's taking the plane and all of its passengers hostage.

Setting any thriller story on a plane brings up the classic "locked room mystery" concept. Since a plane is a sealed environment and all that, we therefore must conclude that the killer is on-board the plane and all that he needs to make true on his promises is also on the plane. Given the rigors of modern airline security, it's not easy to get anything lethal past airport security. And thus the nature of this movie.

A lot of the movie relies on these text messages getting through to Bill on a regular basis. And how this is accomplished despite how unreliable in-flight data signals can be is beyond me, but of course we have to suspect disbelief in favor of the story. There's a lot of back and forth arguments online about the use of on-screen text messages as part of a movie narrative and different stories have mixed results in different films. This time around I wasn't totally sold on everything - plus this much messaging on the plane should have been noticed sooner or something. The only quirk is the fact that Bill played his cards really close to his chest as opposed to sharing the nature of the danger more openly.

Things get rather convoluted as the story tries to add more twists and turns including a suitcase full of cocaine and the fact that not only passengers are at risk from the killer. And the whole time you have Liam Neeson making rather bad decisions while looking all tense looking at his phone. He has the help of a few other characters, but more and more they feel like background noise just buzzing along. Things really could have been done in a more effective manner instead of this being a one-man show run by an alcoholic air marshal.

As much as the "mystery" of who was threatening the plane had a lot of moving parts, in the end it didn't quite feel like the sort of mystery that one could really follow along with or figure out for ourselves. The clues weren't too clear and how they connected together in the end wasn't too logical. And since it was all set in a plane, there were very few fight scenes to help give us action moments and such. What fight scenes could happen mostly happened in secret for some reason except for the inevitable conclusion at the end.

I feel most disappointed in how Julianne Moore was written into this story with very little to do. At most she was sort of one of the suspects at one time or another but it wasn't a major point of contention for Bill to really struggle with or even investigate fully, I feel.

Non-Stop is a weird example of trying to capitalize on Liam Neeson's success with movies like Taken. They had a rather ambitious concept and some clear goals for what they wanted to happen, but in the end it didn't quite deliver that experience. So the movie gets 2.5 passengers suspected of being the killer out of a possible 5.

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