By Will Ashton | email@example.com| @thewillofash
Non-Stop | Directed by Jaume Collet-Serra | Rated PG-13
There is something about its location that lends itself so well towards making a solid movie. Red Eye, in my opinion, is one of the most effective thrillers in the past decade, Airplane! has remained, to this day, one of my favorite comedies and, admittedly, I had some laid-back, tongue in cheek B-movie fun with Snakes on a Plane. As far as I remember, at least.
That said, my expectations for Non-Stop, the latest action film that features 60+-year-old action star Liam Neeson kicking and punching his way to answers, (this time in a plane!) were fairly low. Perhaps, then, that explains why, for at least the hour and a half that I sat down watching the film, I had a pretty good time with it.
Bill Marks (Neeson), a federal air marshal, has had a rough couple of years, ranging from problems in the workplace and at home, most of which come from his addictions. But they are nothing compared to what he must endure when he has to force the government to give a terrorist a $150 million unless they want a passenger on the plane to die every twenty minutes. But as details become more and more revealing in their unspecific nature, it becomes more apparent that Marks is becoming subject to an even bigger crime than he could possible imagine.
Although I remember the reviews being quite tepid when the film was released, I appear to be in the minority when I found Taken—the 2010 film that has propelled Neeson to his comfy lead action man status—to be a rather routine, mediocre vigilante film. And this is coming from someone who loves vigilante movies. I considered Unknown similarly meh, and I believe Taken 2 to be even more lacking than its original. I don’t think I need to go into much detail about my feelings toward Battleship either. Though, I will say, I don’t hate it nearly as much as some of my peers do.
That said, however, The A-Team serves as one of the more enjoyably goofy big-budget action films of the new decade. Additionally, The Grey not only features one of Neeson’s best turns, but was a surprisingly thoughtful and well-made action-thriller that demonstrated, to me, why the public has being going crazy for Neeson these past couple years. But these two films had one thing in common: director Joe Carnahan, and his madcap directing style. Neither of which would be found within Non-Stop.
Rather, Neeson finds himself returning with his Unknown helmer on this project. This said, however, director Jaume Collet-Serra has demonstrated himself a filmmaker that has the potential to make a solid film, but all of his features thus far, including 2005’s House of Wax remake, Orphan and the aforementioned Unknown, have fallen to the waist-side of mediocrity. However, each film showcased that Serra was making signs of improvement, and with Non-Stop, his fifth film, he finally makes his first solid film.
Granted, I said solid. Not necessarily good. Much like Serra’s past films, Non-Stop seems to fall apart when it reaches its third act. What makes this film work quite well in its first two acts is that it demonstrates a great understanding of pace, through competent camera staging and direction—particularly in its limited bottle environment—creating a solid bit of tension and interest.
But, at the heart of the film is Neeson. Much like The Grey, he is the driving force of the film. While his character isn’t nearly as deep or compelling as the one he played there, the intensity he gives to Marks is what sells this fairly silly plot into being taken seriously at all. No pun intended.
When reflecting back on the film, the movie that Non-Stop reminded me the most was Air Force One. Both films are fairly decent action thrillers that center themselves on a plane, a terrorist act, an older, veteran action star and a fairly goofy third act. While Non-Stop doesn’t quite have the benefit of having a villain as fun as Gary Oldman on board (again, no pun intended), or a line as dialogue as fun and quotable as “Get off my plane,” they are both fairly similar in the regard that they are both fun, if forgettable, films that happen to center on an aircraft.
While Serra may take his film a little too seriously in the beginning, and then, bewilderingly, not seriously enough towards the end, he demonstrates a stronger understanding of technical direction which makes for a surprisingly well-made thriller. In particular, there are several tracking long shots that demonstrate great things to come from Serra and D.P. Flavio Martinez Labiano.
It’s no slam dunk, but for a film that could have very well have been a dud, even with this same script in a hack filmmaker hands, this is surprisingly tight and entertaining night at the movies. I know the title is stupid, and Neeson hasn’t always made winners. But, coming from a skeptic, I can say that Non-Stop is a surprisingly fun piece of entertainment that keeps things moving and knows how to keep its cards close to its hand. Even if all it really has is a set of 6, 5, 4, J, and K instead of a full house.
If that metaphor doesn’t make sense, by the way, it’s because I don’t know anything about cards. Perhaps I shouldn’t include a card metaphor if I don’t know anything about them? Fair enough, but I thought it would work. Don’t judge me. I call.
Neeson is set to return with Serra for the upcoming Run All Night. This time, however, I’ll be looking forward to seeing what they produce.