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"NON-STOP"
(2014) (Liam Neeson, Julianne Moore) (PG-13)


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QUICK TAKE:
Action: A federal air marshal must contend not only with anonymous text messages sent to him stating someone aboard a New York to London flight will die every twenty minutes, but also growing suspicion among others that he's the actual culprit.
PLOT:
Bill Marks (LIAM NEESON) is a troubled federal air marshal who's set to work a non-stop flight from New York to London alongside fellow air marshal Jack Hammond (ANSON MOUNT). Seated next to frequent traveler Jen Summers (JULIANNE MOORE), Bill is nervous as usual upon takeoff, but is fine once they're in the air. That is, until he receives an anonymous text message from someone who not only knows his name, but also threatens that people aboard the flight will start dying every twenty minutes if $150 million isn't transferred to a specific account.

Captain David McMillan (LINUS ROACHE) and co-pilot Kyle Rice (JASON BUTLER HARNER) are notified of this issue, as are flight attendants Nancy (MICHELLE DOCKERY) and Gwen (LUPITA NYONG'O), but the passengers, including the likes of Tom Bowen (SCOOT McNAIRY), Zack White (NATE PARKER), Austin Reilly (COREY STOLL) and Fahim Nasir (OMAR METWALLY), are kept in the dark.

Facing repeated deadlines, Bill does what he can to pick out the culprit and stop him before time runs out. But with the bodies starting to pile up every twenty minutes, and with passengers on the flight and others on the ground starting to doubt his intentions, the air marshal must overcome all sorts of obstacles to save the day.

OUR TAKE: 4 out of 10
In the world of crime fiction, there's the long-running "who" staple and subgenre. As in "whodunit" or "who's going to do it" regarding a crime -- usually a murder -- that's already been committed or has been announced by an anonymous culprit. These sorts of tales are usually set in some sort of confined space (so that no one can leave and no new players can be introduced). They also often have a time deadline (to up the ante in terms of building suspense), nearly always feature an assorted cast of characters who may or may not be guilty, and - more often than not -- enough red herrings to make one feel as if they've stumbled into some sort of storytelling fish market.

Whether one responds to that with delight and an appetite for more or the holding of one's nose in reaction to the bad smell lies squarely with the storyteller and how they've conceived and executed their mystery as well as how their characters are portrayed (if done in any sort of audio-visual medium such as TV or movies).

In the case of the new movie "Non-Stop," the jury is still out regarding such reactions, but I imagine many a critic will turn up their nose while some (or perhaps many) an average moviegoer might just enjoy what's offered if viewed as a "turn off your brain and don't think too hard about it" form of escapist entertainment.

The story -- penned by screenwriters John W. Richardson & Chris Roach and Ryan Engle -- revolves around a troubled federal air marshal (Liam Neeson) who boards a flight headed from New York to London. Once in the air, he receives anonymous text messages indicating the culprit not only knows him, but also is now toying with him (like many a deranged cinematic villain has been known to do). The warning is dire but very clear. Every 20 minutes, someone aboard the flight will die if $150 million isn't transferred into a specific bank account.

As a character points out -- upon learning of this threat -- it's not that probable this can happen within the confines of a plane without the culprit and his or her actions being spotted by someone. Undeterred by that fairly obvious storytelling quandary, director Jaume Collet-Serra ("Unknown," "Orphan") sails -- ahem, flies -- full "steam" ahead into the story.

From the get-go, the red herrings are all over the place. Various characters make somewhat unusual small talk with the marshal even before he boards the plane. Even his motives are dubious as we 1) see him boozing it up in the airport parking lot, 2) staring intently at a couple kissing good-bye in the airport's drop off zone and 3) sending a text message that they're ready to go. Using Neeson's character as our eyes of suspicion, the filmmaker then has the troubled marshal viewing nearly everyone as potential suspects, including the obligatory Muslim man (Omar Metwally) on the flight.

He tries his best to single out the villain(s), but gosh darn it, people start ending up dead every third of an hour as predicted. The first comes by his own hands in self-defense, but while he manages to keep that secret from everyone but his long-time flight attendant friend (Michelle Dockery), others start questioning whether he might be the guilty party.

That might have turned into something somewhat interesting, but the director and his scribes don't do enough to make the viewer cast doubt on Mr. Neeson who's starting to rack up a pile of these sorts of films where he takes out the bad guys when they come knocking. As usual, the veteran actor is believable for what's asked of him, and the action-fight scenes are handled well enough to get the viewers' adrenaline flowing (as is a late, emergency landing sequence that won't make any fans of those already nervous about flying).

Sadly, the confines of the setting along with the script result in things getting a bit repetitive and tedious, while all of those herrings do indeed start giving this offering a certain odor. And despite the deliberate plotting of the villainous plan (and a side note of wondering if Oscar nominee Lupita Nyong'o wishes she hadn't signed on for what's nothing more than a bit part), the film grows increasingly preposterous with each revelation until much of the fun is sucked out the window as the script loses pressure until it finally falls apart.

I'll admit I enjoyed the action bits and it's fun watching a fellow old man like Neeson kick some major movie butt. But in terms of making us care about figuring out the "who's the culprit" secret, the pic quickly loses altitude to the point that we don't really care. The one saving grace is that since these sorts of "trouble on a plane" movies are rarely shown on real flights, passengers situated for hours aboard their own flight won't be stuck watching an offering like this. Fun in spurts but otherwise a misfire if any sort of cranial activity is occurring above your shoulders, "Non-Stop" rates as a 4 out of 10.




Reviewed February 25, 2014 / Posted February 28, 2014


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