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If anyone had asked me a decade ago my prediction for the career path of Oscar and Tony-nominated actor, Liam John Neeson, OBE, action hero might not have been top of the list.  Not to be mistaken, that Neeson’s a strong, tall hunk o’ man and has proven his physicality in earlier films like Darkman and Crossing the Line (and to a different extent, Under Suspicion, wink-wink).  The guy emanates pure masculinity, yet he shied away from the genre for most of his acting life.   Even in later films, like Batman Begins and Star Wars: The Phantom Menace, the action is fairly passive.  Who knew what delight I’d take in the second act of Neeson’s successful career, which is more like a side-line than a renaissance, as a full-on action guy who owes less to the movies of Martin Scorsese or Christopher Nolan than those of Arnold Schwarzenegger, Bruce Willis or Jean Claude Van Damme.

So we have the set-up, a federal air marshal wakes up with the breakfast of champions; a true Irish coffee to start his day monitoring random flights.  The sullen fellow boards a plane for a London trip that seems perfectly ordinary, with unexceptional passengers including a sad, lonely unaccompanied minor and an annoying neighbour who won’t stop chatting.  Bill Marks’ flask of liquid courage and said row-mate’s unwarranted pawing distracts him sufficiently through the unnervingly rumbly lift-off.  Unlike most of the occupants of the plane, Marks does have inflight internet access, which proves not such a great thing when someone hacks into the system to send him taunting texts.  The anonymous messenger seems to know way too much about our fallible hero and the run-of-the-mill flight immediately becomes something other when that mystery texter initiates a countdown to eliminate one passenger every twenty minutes.  To further the point, he (or she) also has a bomb on board ready to blow once the fun and games with the marshal are done.  Marks informs the head flight attendant, the piloting crew and the TSA, who don’t seem to take his warning very seriously.  It’s like the stink of gin precedes him.  Even his on-flight marshalling partner minimises the proof right in his hands as he peruses Marks’ texts.  Then, right on schedule, people start dying, either through some medical means that can’t be traced without a proper doctor on board, or through Marks’ burly hands, as when he faces heated opposition on all sides against his attempt to save everyone.  Trying to keep the passengers calm by not explaining what is going on only blows up in Marks’ face (No pun intended) as his none-too-gentle detective procedures are captured and somehow - thousands of miles in the sky - uploaded to YouTube and then to the news media, which immediately brands him a rogue cop, a terrorist.  The only thing that can clear his name and put things right to help the passengers is for the real bad guys to show and as long as everything is going to their plan, why would they?

This, like the others in the Neeson action oeuvre, is strictly B stuff, and there’s nothing wrong with that.  In this age of sparkly emo vampires, comic book supers, ironically cool, hipster anti-heroes and the Severus Snape-ifying of the bad guy – the weedy villain who steals the picture by way of better lines, hair and savoir faire - sometimes you just need a manly, bare-knuckled fella - flaws and all – who’s ready to knock the stuffing out of somebody to save the day.  That’s Liam Neeson all over.  If I saw Liam Neeson on a public conveyance, I know I’d feel safer.  Whether it was an attack by a squad of evil ninjas or angry aliens from outer space; Neeson would be on it and deliver everyone to safety.  The believability factor’s in the bag when you see him and therefore so is half the battle of whether the film will be enjoyable.  The guy’s got certified acting chops, which he’ll need to pull off the simple-minded script, including a painfully-timed gush of exposition by Marks meant to make the audience privvy to why he’s a big ol’ lush and gain the sympathy of the revolting passengers (Pun semi-intended).  The film is quite preposterous; the motivation behind these evil deeds feels practically exploitative, if not extremely silly, but it holds about as much weight as Marks’ ad hoc confessional.  Just to be sure we have all the possibilities to create airborne fear in the audience, there’s the obligatory Muslim passenger in a taqiyah and even Marks’ North Ireland birthplace is brought to the fore.  There’s a weird side story about the partner being a drug smuggler foisted into the film merely to put the bomb into play.  Equally inconsequential is the supporting cast, featuring Downton Abbey’s Michelle Dockery as the main flight attendant, using her trademark-worthy snob-face to show her growing concern that Marks is not operating with both wings intact.  Brit thesp Linus Roache is unrecognisable as the pilot who wants to believe the marshal, but doesn’t have much time to make his case.  12 Years a Slave’s lovely Lupita Nyong’o, sporting a fabulous Grace Jones flattop, is fortuitously forgettable as another stewardess who pops up every now and again to let us know that she’s frightened.  The only one who stands out for all the wrong reasons is Julianne Moore as the grating seat neighbour who is way too into everybody’s business.  The force-fed “chemistry” she and Neeson are supposed to share only serves to make the viewer worry that Marks will never make it to AA if he hooks up with this busybody.  In all the panic of trying to determine the identity of the villain, there’s a precious moment when it looks like it might be Moore’s character and my heart sang at the possibility of Marks giving her a two-fisted interrogation.

One thing for which there is no excuse for is the shoddy shakycam that permeates the action scenes.  What should have been a thrilling (non-romantic) bit of hand-to-hand action in the toilets is diminished by the hyperactive cinematography.  What does work is Neeson’s portrayal of Marks’ growing fear and anger at his helpless circumstance, revealing itself to the passengers by way of his officious and unreasonable requests and sudden bursts of violence.  The marshal becoming or possibly even being unhinged is the most compelling thing about the movie.  The whole idea that the plane will blow up unless this, that and the other happens gets pushed by the wayside in comparison to the much more interesting time bomb of Neeson’s character.

Non-Stop is exactly what one would expect from a B-movie actioner; some thrills and a small bit of fighting action, and no more.  Luckily, despite its clear deficiencies and lack of inspiration and thanks to the steady and winning presence of its star, it’s also no less.

 

~ The Lady Miz Diva

Feb 28th, 2014

 

 

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