“Non-Stop” Movie Review

     There was a moment in “Non-Stop”, Liam Neeson’s now obligatory action entry each February, where I was yelling in my mind at Neeson’s character, “No! Don’t do it!”.  And then he did and the movie was practically ruined.  The plot had strung me along and I was actually rolling with it, until Federal Air Marshall Bill Marks (Neeson) opens a brief case and discovers a kilo of cocaine.  Rather than take his discovery at face value, he decides to cut open the package and taste a sample just to make sure, and so went one of the most lame and overused movie cliches in a film that is chalk full of the them.  Director Jaume Collet-Serra reunites with Neeson after their successful collaboration in 2011’s “Unknown” and have constructed a by the numbers “who done it” within the confines of an airliner headed for London.

     We are meant to know early that Marks isn’t exactly all together mentally.  Something is wrong and he seems to believe the answer to his problems, like most flawed movie characters, is excessive use of alcohol.  He assumes his duty as an Air Marshall anyway and takes us through his usual preflight routine that includes observation of the flight’s passengers both at the ticket counter, as well as the gate.  This is where many of the film’s key characters are first seen and Collet-Serra ensures the audience will mentally highlight them for later with various chance encounters before everyone boards the plane.  There is, of course, a Muslim male who though quiet and mild mannered, seems to have everyone’s attention.  There’s the black guy who gets in a minor spat with Marks at the security check point, letting us know we should keep an eye on his every movement.  Finally, a little girl who is flying for the first time and meets Marks just as she is about to step foot on the plane.  She’s scared, and this is the perfect time for Neeson to show his soft side as he comforts her by returning a stuffed animal she had dropped in the jet way.

     Once Marks becomes acquainted with the woman seated next to him, Jen (Jullianne Moore), the story then shifts into high gear, when Marks receives a text on the plane’s private network telling him someone on the plane will be killed every 20 minutes until $150 million is deposited into a provided account number.  You don’t get the idea this type of scenario is in the Federal Air Marshall training manual, as Marks seems befuddled as to how to proceed.  He confers with another Agent on board and accuses him of sending the texts as a joke, but soon realizes the threat against the plane is real.  As the film moves through the second and into the third act, the plotting is a bit convenient, as many situations that occur could not have been planned by those responsible, rather Marks just seems to fall into them by way of his own actions. With more than 150 people on board, Marks seems to work his way through each one of them and you have to figure his methods are bound to tick a few people off.

     The terrorists have managed to somehow set Marks up and his bosses back home have abandoned him, now treating him as if he is the one who has hijacked the plane.  Collet-Serra stages a number of entertaining sequences throughout, including a fight within the confines of an airplane lavatory, along with a bit of comic relief in the form of Marks attempting to appease the passengers by telling them the airline has offered free international travel for one year as long as they cooperate with his investigation.  The script moves from person to person with Marks as various individuals on the plane begin as suspicious but are then exonerated, only to become suspicious again.  This format carries on for the films entire running time until finally the people responsible for the terrorist plot are revealed, with the reasoning behind the attack turning out to be a motivation that has been painfully overused in many films before.

     Timely dialogue is given to several players throughout the film in order to support Neeson’s been there done that tough guy persona.  Michelle Dockery plays Nancy, a flight attendant who appears to have some history with Marks.  Corey Stoll turns up as an NYPD cop who finds himself in the middle of the action.  Even Lupita Nyong’o (“12 Years a Slave”) shows up as Nancy’s flight attendant partner, but is given little to do or say which is a shame considering her obvious talents and fame to come.  Overall, “Non-Stop” delivers what you’d expect from what is now the cookie cutter format used by Neeson and the filmmakers behind his films for the last 8 years.  What began with “Taken” has now become the norm each at least once each year.  Something to perhaps entertain the masses who choose to a take a pass on Oscar nominated fare, instead looking to pass the time with a film requiring less thought. GRADE: C