Thursday, February 27, 2014
"Non-Stop" takes two recent staples of the action/thriller genre and mashes them agreeably, if preposterously, together.
You've got the high-stakes terrorist event in a confined space with an imposed deadline, a la "Die Hard," "Speed" and many rip-offs, in which a group of innocents are trapped in a place with a diabolical enemy willing to sacrifice them all. And you've got the taunting killer communicating with the cop trying to stop him, dropping hints and continually outflanking the do-gooder until the very end.
The movie also boasts an older guy showing he's still got the right stuff. Harrison Ford did this in "Air Force One" and Clint Eastwood with "In the Line of Fire." But even they've aged out of that sort of thing, so a new crop of geezers have come to the fore, with Liam Neeson leading the way. He established his action cred with "Taken," and since then has mostly done badass roles.
"Non-Stop" is a bit of a twist, since Bill Marks doesn't seem much like a hero at first. A federal air marshal, he's a drinker with a bit of a temper who, among other challenges, goes white-knuckled at the prospect of flying. But it's the job, and he does it well, if not with much enthusiasm.
Bill receives the ultimate challenge during a six-hour flight from New York to London. He starts receiving text messages on his (supposedly) secure device that a passenger on the plane is going to die if $150 million isn't wired to a bank in the next 20 minutes. Sure enough, someone ends up dead at the end of that time, though not in the way we, or Bill, expects it.
The rest of the movie becomes one long cat-and-mouse game as various potential suspects present themselves and are weeded out.
There's a taciturn Muslim guy (Omar Metwally), a loudmouth Bronx type (Corey Stoll), a nervous bespectacled guy (Scoot McNairy), a brash young black dude (Travis Mitchell), an uptight businessman, a distracted computer programmer (Nate Parker) and more. Even the captain (Linus Roache) and flight attendants (Michelle Dockery, Lupita Nyong'o) are not above suspicion.
Gliding in and out of Bill's baleful eye is Jen (Julianne), the gregarious woman who sat next to him on the plane before all hell broke loose. She's an X-factor, likeable but not entirely trustworthy, and Bill seems to weigh his doubts and hopes for her.
Director Jaume Collet-Serra and his quartet of screenwriters keep things coming fast at the audience, including an audacious effort by the terrorist to convince everyone that Bill himself is actually the one pulling all the strings. Now he has to fend off an unruly mob of passengers and hostility from the pilots and crew.
The whole thing is utterly ridiculous, including ham-handed attempts to insert some maudlin sentiment into the proceedings, represented by a timid young girl and some disturbing news about Bill's past.
But "Non-Stop" is just that, a giddy and reckless thrill ride from start to finish. It's only after you climb off that you realize how silly it all was, but by then you've had your fun.