After the surprise success of Taken, Liam Neeson has created a sub-genre all his own. At 61, he’s improbably become the only current viable action star at the box office. Unfortunately, he has yet to back up the success of Taken with something of a similar caliber. Non-Stop doesn’t buck that trend but it’s his most respectable action vehicle since, including Taken 2.
Re-teaming with his Unknown director Jaume Collett-Serra, Non-Stop is a small action flick in the vein of Die Hard. Taking place almost entirely on an airplane, it uses the limited space to its advantage the way that many of the best of the genre have. It sets it up with an even simpler premise — Air Marshall Bill Marks’ (Neeson) cell phone is hacked to tell him that unless $150 million is transferred into an account, someone will die every twenty minutes. Marks, along with the other Air Marshall Jack Hammond (Anson Mount), Captain David McMillan and ground Agent Marenick (Shea Wigham), don’t take it seriously at first because it seems so implausible. But what the film does well is to play off that implausibility and to slowly build tension. It also singles out from the beginning who could be behind the attack, including cop Austin (Corey Stoll), school teacher Tom Bowen (Scoot McNairy) and Jen Summers (Julianne Moore), the only one who supports Marks throughout the entire ordeal.
Just as the title suggests, once the plane takes off it’s a non-stop ride of suspense. Still, the film has its share flaws that ultimately undo the good will it sets up for itself. Chief among them is that the passengers are immediately wary of Marks, who is soon suspected as the hijacker himself. All this, despite him being an Air Marshall. While it’s plausible that once the passengers become aware that something isn’t right they’d become antsy, it’s unbelievable that they are immediately distrustful of the plane’s Air Marshall for no discernible reason other than the fact that he’s doing his job.
The third act also falls flat with a late game decision to try and add some political weight out of left field. It doesn’t work and it ruins the simplicity that came before it, which was the only real aspect the story had going for it other than another stellar performance from Neeson. Solid performances from Moore, Stoll, McNairy and Michelle Dockery as a flight attendant help anchor the film but without much innovation it can’t quite make the impact it wants. Still, it’s an improvement on Collett-Serra’s part over Unknown and continues to prove that Neeson has real presence as an action star despite his age, which if anything, makes his continued presence in them all the more unconventional and fun.
Rating: 3 out of 5