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Please remain in your seats with your seat belts fastened until Liam Neeson punches you in the face: “Non-Stop”

March 4, 2014

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Well, it’s a new year, and you know that means: time for a new movie about Liam Neeson killing people. I don’t know exactly when this became a tradition—I guess sometime around 2009, when we, as a country took in the ludicrosity of the AARP-eligible Neeson running around Paris murdering human traffickers and said, “Yes! This—this is what has been missing from my life!” Anyway, Neeson’s latest entry into this sub-genre of filmmaking is Non-Stop, which differs from his usual outings in two very important ways: 1) none of the people he kills are foreigners, and 2) he does it in a plane.

In Non-Stop, Neeson plays the generically-named Bill Marks, a Federal Air Marshal who has clearly seen better days. He drinks, throws mournful looks at a picture of a little girl, and argues with his superiors on the phone—and that’s before he even gets on his flight from New York to London.

Like the old Airport movies of yore, Non-Stop takes its time getting going by introducing us to the cast of characters we’ll be spending this five-hour flight with: the asshat, the frightened kid, the possible love-interest (here played by Julianne Moore), and the industrious flight attendants (Michelle Dockery and Lupita Nyong’o looking like an early-‘80s Grace Jones without the testosterone). With our pieces in place, the movie proper can begin.

She has two lines of dialogue...and the only Oscar of the cast.

She has two lines of dialogue…and the only Oscar of the cast.

And begin it does, as Bill starts to get creepy texts from someone who seems to know all about him and his demons. The messenger demands 150 million bucks be transferred into a bank account or someone will die every 20 minutes. Bill takes the threat seriously, and when, lo and behold, someone dies at the 20 minute mark, he takes it  real seriously.

Unfortunately, for Bill this means acting like a goddamned lunatic, bullying passengers, roughing people up, barking out orders, and generally treating the flight with all the consideration of a 1980s hijacker.

He just wants more pretzels.

He just wants more pretzels.

The movie then goes through a series of plot contortions that are really too numerous to detail here, but suffice it say, whoever is screwing with Bill appears to be, well omniscient.

I’d be lying if I said that Non-Stop didn’t have its fair share of suspense. It also has a nifty plan to  put Bill into an ever-shrinking box, until it hits a point when it seems like the only logical explanation is that, yes, Bill is indeed the root cause of the havoc on the flight. Unfortunately, once it becomes clear that the movie isn’t going to commit to this, it also becomes clear that buying into the movie’s denouement is going to require a suspension of disbelief generally reserved for religious fanatics and members of the Flat Earth Society.

"Nope, no messages form my agent, either. Guess we're stuck in this movie."

“Nope, no messages form my agent, either. Guess we’re stuck in this movie.”

The other problem is the movie won’t let go of Bill as its white knight, so as he becomes more and more frantic, utilizing ever-more inappropriate and illegal tactics to pursue his investigation, we’re supposed to be right there with him. I mean, flying overseas in coach is bad enough—no one deserves to have a crazy Liam Neeson running around, waving a gun and harassing people who are just trying to suffer through Grown Ups 2 because it’s marginally better than staring at the back of the seat in front of them.

And then there is the ending. I’ll cover it in a separate spoiler segment, but I’ll just point to the line “It was so easy,” spoken to describe the plan. It’s kinda ironic, since the plan pretty much hinges upon being able to tell the future…which is rather the opposite of easy.

"It's my agent. He's offering three films next year where I shoot foreign people."

“It’s my agent. He’s offering three films next year where I shoot foreign people.”

Neeson is great as ever—hey, he didn’t become an action hero for nothing. He’s weathered and sympathetic and credible beating people up. So is Moore—teaming up with Neeson again after Chloe (he treats her better in this movie)—and the two of them have  nice, mature chemistry. Unfortunately, everyone else is a one-dimensional plot-device.

"Look, I gotta warn you: I can only go about ten minutes before I start punching people."

“Look, I gotta warn you: I can only go about ten minutes before I start punching people.”

And we also have such logic-defiling plot elements such as:

* At 60, Neeson is five years past the mandatory retirement age for federal agents.

* Additionally, FAMs tend not to work the job for the long-haul. They mostly defect to other agencies after a couple years.

* Neeson literally punches an entire economy-class cabin the face. That almost makes up for not beating up that wolf in The Grey.

* Neeson inexplicably goes through standard security screening and not, as would be the case, the Law Enforcement Officer gate.

* Marks’ personal demons caused him to be fired from the NYPD prior to becoming a FAM. Uh…that would more or less preclude him from being hired by a federal agency.

* It is nice, though, that the plane is presented as normally-sized, and the action is contained by realistic limitations of a 747, as opposed to, say, Flightplan, in which the plane was roughly the size of a shopping mall.

So, that’s Non-Stop. You might want to catch it on streaming.

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