Film Review: Non-Stop

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Plot: When the passenger on a flight from New York to London threatens the safety of everyone on board, unless he’s paid $150 Million, it’s up to a dejected alcoholic US Air Marshal (Liam Neeson) to discover the culprit before panic breaks out on the plane.

In the vein of Speed, Con Air, and Air Force One, Non-Stop is a classic throwback to nineties action flicks, and a damn good one. Sure it’s a little hokey, and if you really want to be that guy with his arms folded who says, “Oh, give me a break,” then this probably isn’t the movie for you. Speaking for myself, I had a blast. But just like with Harrison Ford or Nicolas Cage in the previous films mentioned, you need that perfect action star to make it all work, and Liam Neeson is that action star.

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Liam Neeson should just star in a movie called “Yeah, I’m an action star! What up?” For whatever reason, Neeson just knows how to take silly material that 99.9% of actors would screw up, and elevate it to the best possible scenario. Yeah, his character’s back story is Cliché-Mc-Cliché pants, but whatever…he totally owns the screen, and you root like hell for him. When you have Liam Neeson in your movie, it’s guaranteed to at least not be bad.

Speaking of back story, Neeson plays Bill Marks, US Air Marshal. The first ten minutes are pretty melodramatic in terms of setting up his troubled past, and it takes about 15-20 minutes for the film to really get going. But once it takes off (no pun intended), it’s a tense mother of a film. The use of text messages is crucial, and I commend the director (Jaume Collet-Serra) for throwing in some neat tricks in order to execute it. You get a good sense of the villain’s personality just in how these text messages are presented on screen. This director also worked with Neeson in 2011’s Unknown, which was a box office hit, so clearly these guys work well together. I’m interested to see what this guy could do with better material.

The bad guy’s whole mantra is the classic “I’m going to kill someone every 20 minutes” deal, and each 20 minute segment presents a new intense scenario where Marks has to try and flush out the terrorist. But what I loved is just how much this guy screws with Mark’s mental state – it’s a total mind game. In fact, if a Batman movie were to ever include the Riddler again, this is what I would want. My only gripe is there are times when Marks should really know when he’s being played, but he still acts kind of dumb. But that’s a minor complaint, because once the villain sends his first text message, I was on the edge of my seat the entire time, and desperately wanted to know who was behind all this.

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Aside from Neeson, we also get a lot of great little side characters. Julianne Moore plays a big role as a woman Marks befriends on the plane. She’s Julianne Moore, so of course she elevates the material just like Neeson. The film also does a great job of inserting certain supporting characters at various times, and in ways you’ll remember them, so that when they all come together on the plane, we get a good guessing game. Actors like Michelle Dockery, Nate Parker, and Scoot McNairy all do a great job. Even Lupita Nyong’o randomly shows up as a flight attendant. These characters definitely deliver some cheesy lines here and there, but it never goes over the top. One of the best parts of the movie though is when the passengers all go into the inevitable panic, and without spoiling anything, Marks says something so poignant to calm everybody down, and it’s probably one of the most realistic character reactions I’ve ever seen in a motion picture. It’s funny…but also kind of true.

I said it at the top, but if you’re a lover of old school action, go see Non-Stop. Yeah, you’ll have to take some leaps in logic, and yea, it’s got a definite cheese ball factor like those other nineties films had, but I loved it. This is the type of film that gives you a true nostalgic feeling, as opposed to slapping together some hackneyed known property. Everything from the villain reveal, to the score, it’s just a brilliantly crafted throwback. The director even managed to give me a legit jump scare, which is not easy to do. It all comes back to Liam Neeson though – to put it simply, he could star in Vacuum Cleaner: The Movie, and it would be awesome.

Rating: 8 out of 10 (Great)

All photos credit: Universal

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Daniel Cohen is the hard-boiled Film Editor for the Pop Break. Besides reviews, Daniel writes box office predictions, Gotham reviews and Oscar coverage. He can also be found on the Breakcast. If Daniel was sprayed by Scarecrow's fear toxin, it would be watching Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen on a non-stop loop.