‘Non-Stop’ schtick wastes Liam Neeson

Ever since his performance as a ferocious father determined to wipe out all of Paris in search of his daughter (Taken, 2008), American and foreign audiences alike have developed an inexplicable obsession with Liam Neeson.


Non-Stop
Rating: PG-13
Running time: 106 min.
Stars: Liam Neeson, Julianne Moore, Scott McNairy

The Celtic actor once heralded as a serious, dramatic artist has now been relegated to hackneyed, incoherent action films.

It’s a pity that Non-Stop follows in the trend of The Unknown (2011) and Taken 2 (2012) in being yet another piece of pablum sporadically ameliorated by Neeson’s bravado and charisma.

Directed by Jaume Collet-Serra, the film tells the story of an alcoholic air marshal (Bill Marks played by Neeson) who acts accordingly when he receives a series of dangerous text messages.

The unidentified passenger threatens to kill one person on the aircraft every 20 minutes until a $150 million dollars is deposited to an off-shore account.

Marks is inevitably framed by the hijackers (the aforementioned bank account is registered in his name), convincing fellow passengers that he’s the villain in this situation.

This brings us to one of the film’s immediate problems: Just about every passenger immediately distrusts Marks before any dubious information is revealed.

That’s not to suggest Marks is some infallible air marshall who is being unfairly maligned. Collet-Serra spends a good portion of the time depositing us in the agent’s turbulent headspace.

Marks is, unconventionally, startlingly mediocre at his job. He takes clandestine (note: highly illegal) smoke breaks in the airplane lavoratory and quick shots of whiskey to wake himself out of his drunken stupor.

He’s mercurial and on edge, unfocused in his pursuit of the in-flight criminal sending this text messages. Kudos to Non-Stop for delivering an action anti-hero we still (relatively) root for.

Every noteworthy passenger on the plane is played by someone of intrigue: Julianne Moore as the woman who asked to sit next to Marks, Scoot McNairy as a suspicious school teacher and Corey Stoll as a frustrated New York cop fed up with Marks’ incompetence.

All of these ancillary characters (and then some) are imbued with enough ambiguity to where you can reasonably believe they are the criminal. This creates an elaborate guessing game for Marks and the audience to partake in. Sometimes that game is galvanizing, often times it is enervating.

With the film’s conclusion in sight, Collet-Serra and screenwriters John W. Richardson, Christopher Roach, and Ryan Engle take an unsettling left turn in an attempt to add gravitas and weight to the story.

Allusions to the illusion of national security are made in haste, desperately reaching for substance and commentary where there is none. It’s a scene that fails on such epic proportions that you feel the discomfort and confusion the actors evidently experienced while reciting these dismal lines.

That said, Non-Stop does elucidate Collet-Serra’s evolution as a filmmaker. Fluid camerawork in tow, the action sequences are more composed and coherent than in the past, replete with energy and excitement provided by Neeson and company.

And albeit the film’s fault, Non-Stop deserves some credit for not being as horrendous as The Orphan (2009) or as enervating as The Unknown.

Above all, my lasting wish is that Neeson, now 61, retires this grating schtick soon. His Golden Years are nigh, and his undeniable talents need not be wasted any longer.