Thursday, February 27, 2014

'Non-stop' trades action for sense

Liam Neeson reunites with director Jaume Collet-Serra (The Unknown) for Non-Stop, a thriller set almost entirely on a jetliner that's facing a terrorist threat.

In addition to exploiting current fears about flying, Non-Stop proves laughably improbable and only moderately suspenseful.

With action-oriented movies such as Taken and to a lesser extent The Grey, Neeson seems to be on the verge of turning himself into a cliche.

Here, he's playing another depressed hero: He's Bill Marks, a Federal Air Marshal who's mired in guilt and prone to heavy drinking. We can guess from the outset that Marks is stricken by a terrible event from his past, probably something involving a daughter.

Despite his personal baggage, Bill gets a better deal than the audience. He's riding comfortably in business class on a flight to London. Once on board, he finds himself seated next to a friendly passenger (Julianne Moore) who also likes to tipple.

The plot arrives almost before the passengers can fasten their seat belts: Bill begins receiving text messages over a secure network. It seems that one of the passengers is a terrorist who plans to kill one passenger every 20 minutes unless $150 million is deposited in an off-shore bank account.

To add a further level of complication, TSA folks on the ground believe that Bill is the hijacker, a rogue agent out for a big pay day.

Bill must find the real hijacker even as he argues with authorities about his right to do so. Like most heroes, he's on his own.

Joining Moore in supporting roles are Michelle Dockery and best supporting actress nominee Lupita Nyong'o (as flight attendants).

Nyong'o is entirely wasted, which may be just as well because this rising star hasn't much to gain from a mediocre thriller that throws around red herrings before we learn what's motivating the hidden terrorist.

Let's just say the explanation left me groaning in disbelief. It's brazen, contrived and about as likely as finding an empty middle seat in the center aisle of a trans-Atlantic flight.

Collet-Serra stages an explosive finale which I won't reveal here, but which probably should be avoided by travelers who tend toward white-knuckle flying.

Look, Neeson has plenty of presence, and he's become particularly adept at adding gravitas to these kinds of roles, but I look forward to the day when he finds a bigger challenge -- for him and for us.

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