NOTE: Within this review there are hints as to how the movie doesn’t end, which should be considered a spoiler for those that try and avoid such things.
For what it is, Non-Stop is a satisfying thriller, but it’s a standard whodunnit with a slight psychological bend that, had it been pursued to the end, would have actually made it the Hitchcockian thrill ride some are going to attempt to peg it as being. However, to do that would have taken a lot more nerve than a director of Jaume Collet-Serra‘s standing has shown to possess, though you could argue Orphan (which went all the way to the other side) was more ballsy than most films we get today, even if I wasn’t much of a fan, though more as a result of the filmmaking not the actual narrative.
This time Collet-Serra is working with a screenplay from unproven screenwriters John W. Richardson, Chris Roach and Ryan Engle, all first-time feature writers with Roach being a regular writer for the WWE. Given their credits, or lack-of, I would have expected much worse, but as far as generic thrillers go this one keeps you engaged, even if only to find out whether you guessed who’s really behind the terrorist threat aboard this seemingly-doomed international flight to London.
Enter U.S. air marshal Bill Marks (Liam Neeson). He’s hit hard times. We know this because just before he boards his flight we see him drinking in the parking lot. Never a good sign. Red-eyed and weary he helps a little girl get over her fear of boarding the plane before taking his seat. Meanwhile we’re witness to the supporting cast, which includes Lupita Nyong’o as a last second replacement flight attendant, Corey Stoll as a crazy-eyed passenger, Scoot McNairy as the overly-nice man asking for a light, Nate Parker as a techie and Julianne Moore as a woman that wants the window seat.
There’s also Anson Mount as a second, douchey air marshal aboard the same flight (he reminded me a lot of a more sinister version of the character played by Eric Lutes in that awful, mid-’90s sitcom “Caroline in the City”), Michelle Dockery as the lead flight attendant and Omar Metwally as Dr. Fahim Nasir, because it wouldn’t be a terrorist movie aboard a plane if we didn’t hint at Muslim involvement.
What do all of these people have in common? They’re all suspects! Even Neeson is a suspect as he begins receiving text messages telling him someone will die every 20 minutes unless $150 million is wired into a specified account. As we soon learn, the account is in his name!
Surprisingly, this familiar little “twist” is where the film really could have found some interesting territory to mine. It may have ultimately been looked at as something of a Fight Club rip-off, but I would have loved to have seen Neeson in that moment of realization.
By the time the dust settles, Non-Stop has some entertaining moments (and a fire extinguisher to the face that actually made me jump). It’s not as ham-handed as I expected to be and it’s a cut above the “so bad it’s good” formula, where it just feels “good enough not to be bad”. As far as movies of this sort are concerned, I’m actually glad I saw this one in a theater, though I know now it wouldn’t have really mattered had I never seen it at all.