Directed by: Jaume Collet-Sera
Starring: Liam Neeson, Julianne Moore, Lupita Nyong'o
The poster for "Non-Stop" features Liam Neeson, turned on his side, aggressively firing a gun amid the chaos of a plane crash.
The image suggests that the film belongs to the increasingly tired "Taken" action hero chapter of Neeson's career, and in many ways it does. The evidence is only further compounded by a scene of Neeson's air marshal character Bill Marks forlornly looking at pictures of his daughter.
But this isn't a halfhearted knockoff. Neeson only beats the hell out of a handful of people, after all.
More importantly, the unique, constrictive premise allows for several genuinely tense technical marvels from a filmmaking standpoint. And it requires a certain amount of smart scripting to carry the movie until the narrative hits an inevitable wall.
Marks is a troubled alcoholic nonetheless entrusted with marshal duty on a flight from New York to London. Soon after taking off, his highly secure marshal phone receives a text from someone promising that a passenger will be killed every 20 minutes unless a whole lot of money is wired to an account, etc., etc.
This spurs a lot of scenes in which Marks tries to solve the mystery by aggressively storming around the plane, roping in his seatmate (Julianne Moore) and the flight attendants, played by the terrific Lupita Nyong'o and Michelle Dockery, while the other passengers begin to question his motives.
It's "Clue" in the skies, with a premise that demands a letdown. Fundamentally, the situation is so impossibly convoluted that the screenwriters would have to introduce a Christopher Nolan-caliber innovation for the picture to avoid petering out. This isn't a dreamland and Bill doesn't live in the Matrix, so it's just a pedestrian whodunit that grows increasingly less interesting.
"Non-Stop" also takes itself way too seriously. It seems counterintuitive, but maybe the film would have benefited from fewer top-of-the-line, serious talent and more from actors capable of indulging in the cornball spirit at its core.
Yet director Jaume Collet-Sera makes strong use of the limited space, introducing an airplane bathroom fight that's a marvel of complicated camera set-ups. He enhances the paranoia by hewing close to Marks' addled perspective. The screenwriters conceive several intriguing scenarios over the course of the first half that convincingly result in several deaths while directing suspicion toward just about everyone.
The movie can't sustain its momentum and it's not consistently entertaining enough to wholeheartedly recommend, but at least it's not "Taken 3" (though that's on the way).