Enjoy the flight

Enjoy the flight

‘Non-Stop’ delivers a thrilling mystery with Liam Neeson taking control

By Carl Kozlowski 02/27/2014

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It’s easy for critics to get caught inside their own self-absorbed bubbles, taking films way too seriously without remembering that their first job is to let average Joes and Janes know whether a movie will deliver on its primary job, which is to entertain.  

This week, I was reminded of that vital component of my job after seeing the Liam Neeson thriller “Non-Stop.” Neeson plays Bill Marks, a US federal marshal who is forced to get on a six-hour flight from New York to London that he really doesn’t want to be on. 

In the film’s opening minutes Bill is shown sneaking whiskey, smoking cigarettes and walking with a boozy, world-weary paranoia through the airport. It is his job to always be alert to any potential threat. However, he’s been in the business so long that everyone has become a threat in his eyes. 

Bill tries to make the best of it when he receives a text from an unknown fellow passenger warning him that if $150 million isn’t transferred to a bank account within 20 minutes, someone onboard is going to be murdered. With a crowded plane flying over the Atlantic Ocean, Bill doesn’t have a lot of options on determining where the threat is coming from. 

Worse yet, he quickly realizes that he’s the victim of an elaborately planned setup designed to make him look like a disgruntled agent who has taken the plane hostage. This twist is a doozy, so perfectly rendered that if it weren’t Neeson playing Bill, audiences might be wondering if Bill is really a lunatic with an axe to grind. This twist leads to a whole string of consequences that neither Bill nor the audience could ever see coming. 

But it is a “Liam Neeson thriller,” which over the past five years since the first “Taken,” has become a genre unto itself. In these movies, you know that he’s going to be a badass dude with a bunch of special skills — from hand-to-hand combat to expert marksmanship and the ability to drive insanely through traffic in exotic world capitals — that will leave anyone who crosses him either whimpering in pain or dead. 

But Neeson’s films also feature an above-average plot and a ferocious intensity rooted in a desire to save his family or the families of others. Neeson’s characters manage to be interchangeable yet unpredictable all at once, winding up in similar situations but always finding a unique way out of them. 

Of course, Neeson is once again perfect in this type of role. Director Jaume Collet-Serra, who has been teaming up with Neeson on a string of thrillers, including “Unknown,” keeps the story moving at a breakneck pace that befits the title. A solid supporting cast, led by Julianne Moore, gives Neeson plenty to play off of. 

The non-stop plot twists in “Non-Stop” almost threatened to go too far and derail the movie. But just when I started to roll my eyes, I started enjoying the comments of an extremely heavyset, disabled man named Mitchell, who rode into the theater on an indoor scooter and hoisted himself with great effort into a regular seat near mine. 

I could have been annoyed whenever Mitchell yelped with excitement or laughed at a snappy line. And I could have really been upset when he made sharp observations to himself, like “He’s an air marshal who’s smoking and drinking? I’ll never fly again!” and “This is one movie that’s never going to be shown in-flight!”

But instead, it was fun to just kick back and enjoy the ride with Mitchell. Sometimes that’s all a movie really asks you to do. 

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