BY STEWART SMITH
I’m not quite sure how we ended up with Liam Neeson as one of the de-facto action heroes currently dominating movie screens, but I have to say that it’s been a delight watching the guy do his thing. His latest, “Non-Stop,” is further proof that the man can carry just about anything within the action-thriller vein no matter how silly thanks almost entirely to his unwavering commitment and conviction.
Neeson plays Bill Marks, an alcoholic former cop now serving as a U.S. federal air marshal. His trans-Atlantic flight seems to be business as usual until he begins receiving texts threatening the death of one passenger every 20 minutes until $150 million is deposited in a bank account. Oh, and the account just happens to be in his name. Dun dun dunnnnnn! It’s a film that’s silly from the get go, and makes sure to play itself just seriously enough so the precise amount of cheese oozes out at all the right times. Mostly. The culprit reveal at the climax feels at odds with how hammy everything else generally is, but thankfully not so much that it deflates the fun had leading up to it.
Director Jaume Collet-Serra and Neeson reunite after 2011’s tonally similar “Unknown.” I’m struggling to recall much of anything from that film save for its ludicrous plot twist, but obviously the two have found something in their partnership to keep it going (they already have a third film in the can to be released next year). Collet-Serra doesn’t do anything here that set my seat on fire, but he’s competent and confident enough in where he wants this thriller to go that its hooks stay firmly planted from start to finish.
The script throws out plenty of classic red herrings and very blatant misdirection. You’ll also see the real culprit coming from a mile away if you really pay attention, but where’s the fun in that? If you’re one of those who insists on beating the film to its conclusion/reveal then you’ll probably have no fun here, but then you probably have no fun at the movies period because you’re too busy trying to act like you’re smarter than everyone else.
This won’t satisfy your action craving if that’s what you want out of a Neeson movie these days, but the bits that do feature some shooting and punching are staged well, especially given the tight quarters. There’s an airplane lavatory brawl that’s actually one of the better fights I’ve seen in such a cramped space. Meanwhile the climactic shootout (about a third of which the trailers show) is just the right mix of silly and fist-pumpingly heroic.
If nothing else, it’s just fun to watch Neeson grow increasingly determined to gain redemption. The alcoholic/failed father aspect of his character surfaces only rarely but it’ is that there’s a certain amount of gravitas that comes standard with just about any performance he gives, so whatever shortcomings might exist in terms of the character as written (and there’s really not much that the script gives us to work with), those gaps are effortlessly filled in simply because of how the man carries his burdens on-screen.
And that’s ultimately what makes Neeson such a magnetic personality and why he’s been so successful as a late-age action hero. There’s a weight he carries with him, a fire and intensity that a younger actor simply can’t possess. It’s entirely possible that films like this and “Taken” would have gone to Mel Gibson had he not gone off his rocker a few years ago. But while I admittedly miss Mad Mel’s on-screen presence, I’m pretty happy to see Neeson find a new niche with films like this.