Movie Review: Non-Stop (2014)
I can’t imagine the Federal Air Marshal Service is too pleased with this movie. Its hero, Bill Marks (Liam Neeson), is an Air Marshal, but he’s also a chain-smoking, depressive alcoholic who hates to fly. Nice combo. We actually see him boozing it up before he gets on the plane (i.e., before he starts his job of protecting us), then he needs Julianne Moore to hold his hand during takeoff, then he smokes in the airplane bathroom. Twice. Plus he’s fairly bumbling and inept throughout. He’s bad, for example, at explaining pertinent information to his superiors. Like how there’s a bomb on board. Ten years earlier, he was a New York City cop but apparently got canned for incompetence. So of course the FAMS snapped him up. Because it’s only national security.
“Non-Stop” is such an odd movie. It does a few things right but so many overwhelming things wrong. Its plot doesn’t quite mesh. It keeps stretching its connective tissue until it snaps. It doesn’t know what year it is.
Here’s an example of not knowing what year it is. Halfway though the movie, Marks, identified as an Air Marshal, is trying to find a hijacker/terrorist on a flight over the Atlantic, but he gets no cooperation. From anyone. Almost every passenger on board isn’t worried about their safety; they’re worried about their civil rights. They keeps calling him a fascist and “Big Brother.” It’s as if it’s the 1960s. It’s as if they’d never seen planes flown into tall buildings.
OK, story. Shortly after the hand-holding takeoff, Marks starts getting taunting messages on his BlackBerry from another passenger about how unless $150 million is deposited in such-and-such an account someone on the plane will die every 20 minutes. So what does he do? Looks around a bit. Confers with a flight attendant. Confers with the other Air Marshal on board, a man named Hammond (Anson Mount). Then he kills him.
That’s not a bad bit, actually. Hammond, with debts, has been bribed into taking a briefcase full of cocaine onto the flight—we later discover there’s a bomb beneath all that powder—and he thinks Marks knows and freaks. I also like how he dies: In a fight in the close quarters of the airplane bathroom. Of course it’s been Hollywoodized. Neeson himself barely fits in an airplane bathroom; good luck getting someone else in there with him. (Ladies? Volunteers?)
But at least it’s interesting. The villain says someone on the plane will die every 20 minutes and the hero is responsible for the first death. He’s also responsible for the third. The second? Well, no. Instead, he accuses others of that murder. He keeps doing this: making enemies of allies. He’s unsubtle in his investigation. He blunders. He doesn’t tell the whole story when it would be so easy to tell the whole story. So people begin to suspect him—like his idiotic superior, Agent Marenick (Shea Whigham), who tells him the terrorist’s bank account is registered in Marks’ name. Ah ha! J’accuse!
One, why would Marks leave the bank account in his name? Two, if you suspect Marks of being that stupid, why would you be so stupid as to tell him?
At least there are a few suspects in the movie:
- Jen Summers, the redhead who wants the window seat, and who is perhaps too interested in what’s going on with Marks (Julianne Moore).
- The NY cop with a quick temper (Corey Stoll, who deserves better roles)
- The confused flight attendant from “Downton Abbey” (Michelle Dockery)
- The flight attendant from “12 Years a Slave” (Lupita Nyong’o), who is given nothing to do but be black and pretty
- The annoying black guy in first class (Zack White)
- The annoying black guy in coach (Corey Hawkins)
- The annoyed middle-aged white dude (Frank Deal)
- The skittish white dude who asked Marks for a light at the beginning of the movie (Scoot McNairy)
- The Muslim dude with a cellphone (Omar Metwally)
- The cute, scared girl (Quinn McColgan)
Right, not all are suspects. Not the girl, and not the Muslim dude (too obvious), and not the NY cop (too close to 9/11), although Stoll makes the man dick enough that I wondered. That’s what kept me going: wondering. Attempting to figure out who and why.
The hijackers turn out to be the skittish white dude—the first suspected and discarded—and the annoying black guy from first class. They’re soldiers who signed up after 9/11 but were pushed off into a meaningless war, and they think our national security is a joke. Like Marks. The drunk. (Hammond goes unmentioned.) So they’re going to make it look like Marks hijacked the plane and killed everyone on board to wake up the U.S. government and its people to national security issues.
Hey, isn’t this a win-win for them? If they succeed, they’ve proven their point. If Marks stops them, as he does (spoiler alert), well, I guess they were wrong. The skittish white dude should’ve said this. He should’ve said, “Either way, I win.” But no.
Instead, Marks is simply the most put-upon Air Marshal ever. The passengers turn on him, his doofus superior relieves him of duty, and the media blares his villainy across the networks based on no information whatsoever. Then they exonerate him in two seconds after the plane crashlands in Reykjavik. It’s as if they’ve been watching the movie with us. Even Richard Jewell had to wait a few days.
Director Jaume Collet-Serra also directed Neeson in “Unknown,” and this one suffers from some of the same problems. It wants to be a 1970s-style thriller but it also wants the heroic happy ending, and it’s tough to have both. Either Marks is a boozing, depressive incompetent ... or he’s the man we watch struggling against all odds for 90 minutes to save everyone. Put another way, the terrorists actually have a point. Marks really shouldn’t be an Air Marshal. Everyone was lucky to get out alive.
“Non-Stop” is basically another “‘Die Hard’ in a ...” movie—close quarters, hostages, indirect communication between hero and villain—but you know what I miss in these movies that the original “Die Hard” had? The hero taunting the villain. “Eeeh! Sorry Hans, wrong guess. Would you like to go for Double Jeopardy where the scores can really change?” Instead, we get the opposite: the criminal mastermind who is always three steps ahead of the hero, taunting the hero because of ... whatever. A personal grudge. No one has a sense of humor. About anything. What I wouldn’t give for a fly in the ointment, a monkey in the wrench, a pain in the ass.