By Gina Scialabba/The Guardsman
Liam Neeson has become the crown prince of over-the-top, B-movie action stardom with his new film, “Non-Stop,” a generic thriller set in an all-too-common background of suspense—the airplane.
Neeson plays federal air marshal Bill Marks, an alcohol-swigging, bleary-eyed troubled hero with depression issues and a shaky past.
He’s gruff, he’s tough and, of course, he’s here to save the 150 passengers of a doomed trans-Atlantic flight from a text-messaging villain. Say what?
Yes, that’s right, but let’s digress for one moment.
Is this the same Neeson whose resume includes such fine films as “Schindler’s List,” Woody Allen’s “Husbands and Wives,” “Michael Collins,” and “Les Miserables?”
Has he really sunk to the lows of two-bit one-liners and woefully predictable outcomes?
If you look at his more recent list of starring roles, you might think we are talking about two different actors. Jean-Claude Van Damme, perhaps?
Starting in 1999, Neeson seemed to have caught the action-hero bug in the “Star Wars” prequel, marched forward in the “Batman” remakes and, most recently, the “Taken” trilogy, which runs on recycled fumes.
The jury is still out about him and what his career will ultimately stand for.
Back to the movie at hand. “Non-Stop” is undeniably fun to watch. It’s a suspenseful, whodunnit with red herrings aplenty.
Basically, Marks uses a secure network to communicate with the Transportation Security Administration when he is aboard a flight. Alas, a crazed terrorist has breached the system and sends Marks text messages that spell doom, or a hijacking.
Every 20 minutes or so, Mr. Terrorist plans to kill another passenger until (insert Austin Powers laugh) he’s wired $150 million to some offshore account.
Neeson does engage in some well-choreographed action sequences in very confined spaces, but his laughable “fire up the troops” monologue midway through overshadows most of that.
Director Jaume Collet-Serra does a decent job of keeping the audience guessing. Most of the passengers and flight attendants are suspected of being the evil mastermind at one point or another. Could it be Colonel Mustard? Professor Plum? Or Neeson himself?
No one in the film delivers a particularly compelling performance, although there are several notable actors, including the always lovely Michelle Dockery (you know her as Lady Mary Crawley from “Downton Abbey”) and recent media darling Lupita Nyong’o, who gave a stunning Academy Award-winning performance in “12 Years a Slave.”
Despite the deep pool of acting talent, most of it is either forgettable or wasted on a sub-par plot.
The movie is also exploitive of the American public’s fears of terrorists and what they should or shouldn’t look like. Did we really need the Middle Eastern doctor thrown into the mix of possible henchmen?
Somewhere under all of this, “Non-Stop” is meant to stimulate a frank political discussion on airline security, but that message gets lost with Neeson catching a gun in zero gravity and firing a perfect shot at the bad guy.
And about that “bad guy,” yeah, you’ll meet him by the end of this ride. No spoiler here. You’d expect his presence would be revealed, but his motivation for the hijacking is incredulous and confusing.
Should you go? Save yourself from getting hijacked (pun, intended) by movie theater prices and rent “Taken” instead. It’s basically the same movie.
If you go……
Run Time: 106 Minutes
Opening Date: Feb. 28, 2014
Directed by Jaume Collet-Serra