Formulaic though it may be, Non-Stop is wildly entertaining: an action thriller with a whodunit
twist that keeps you on the edge of your seat. It’s not exactly seamless; you
can practically picture the filmmakers plotting out their “story beats” one by
one. Yet the finished product is slick and surprising at every turn, and Liam
Neeson hits all the right notes in the leading role, as an air marshal with skeletons
in his closet. Original? No. Effective? Yes.
With the exception of an airport prologue and a brief
wrapup, the entire movie takes place aboard a trans-Atlantic flight. An
apparent terrorist manages to hack into Neeson’s smartphone and begins making
deadly threats. He or she seems to know everything that’s going on, not only on
the aircraft but in Neeson’s private life. Who can it be, and what are they
after? All I can say is that it’s unlikely anyone will figure out who’s
responsible. Not only is there a surfeit of red herrings, but we aren’t given
enough information to make an educated guess.
The screenplay, credited to John W. Richardson, Chris Roach,
and Ryan Engle, might best be described as shameless: it leaves no stone
unturned in establishing Neeson’s backstory, setting up human-interest
sidebars, flipping our expectations and undoing stereotypes. With a first-rate
supporting cast led by Julianne Moore, Scoot McNairy, Michelle Dockery, Nate
Parker, Corey Stoll, Anson Mount, Linus Roache, Omar Metwally, and Oscar
nominee Lupita Nyong’o, every role is perfectly realized, from a sympathetic flight
attendant to a hotheaded passenger.
The only thing that doesn’t
work in Non-Stop is the “reveal”
and ultimate explanation at the end. It’s wordy, clumsy, and unbelievable. But
when a film has entertained you and held you in its grip so long, you may be
willing to forgive this contrivance.
I would call this solid, mainstream Hollywood
entertainment—except that it’s French-financed and directed by Barcelona-born
Jaume Collet-Serra, with visual effects outsourced to Vancouver and India. Our
country can lay claim to a number of the actors (including naturalized citizen
Liam Neeson) and the always-commanding title design and visual treatment by
Kyle Cooper. And, let’s face it, Hollywood movies invented the template that
still holds up in multinational moviemaking such as this.