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February 28, 2014

Liam Neeson action movies have become something of a joke. There’s a whole running gag on the internet about his famous monologue from Taken. But while Non-Stop looks like more of the same, it’s actually a pretty fun locked-room mystery, though not without its share of ridiculous points.

Bill Marks (Neeson) is a federal air marshal, and he’s an alcoholic, as the opening shot of his whiskey flask makes clear. Still, he shows up for his job, flying from New York to London on a British airliner. Soon after they’ve cleared the Atlantic coast he gets a message on the plane’s secure wi-fi network: someone on the plane will die every twenty minutes unless $150 million is transferred into a certain bank account.

Marks takes the threat to the skeptical captain (Linus Roache) and enlists the help of the woman sitting in the next seat (Julianne Moore) to see if he can track down the mystery texter. But sure enough, twenty minutes later someone is dead. Worse: Marks is the one who killed him, and the TSA agent on the ground (Shea Whigham) says the bank account is in Marks’ own name.

So we’ve got a neat little mystery in a nice, confined space, with an added twist that the authorities outside the plane think Marks is actually the bad guy. Director Jaume Collet-Serra — whose previous feature was the similarly twisty Neeson thriller Unknown — makes the best use of the constraints of an airplane cabin. The action is nicely claustrophobic, especially when a fight breaks out in an aisle or a bathroom, and Collet-Serra is masterful at using his camera to misdirect. It also helps that the story — by first-time feature writers John W. Richardson and Christopher Roach — is a neat little puzzle-box itself, with a number of its moving pieces serving double-duty.

That’s not to say that the movie is without its share of howlers. Lots of little things don’t really feel completely plausible. Marks has an angry phone call early on; the tone is a key point in shaping the authorities’ mistaken impressions, but the content is a giant loose end that’s never really explained. And even if a transatlantic flight did have a live television feed from anywhere, why would a British carrier default to NY1 News?

Still, even if Non-Stop isn’t a masterpiece it’s still a solidly-executed thriller. Neeson’s action career may approach self-parody at times, but movies like this one should help remind us why he gets the offers in the first place.

Worth It: yes.
Bechdel Test: fail.


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