Review: Non-Stop – SMS on a plane

“I have had it with these ‘monkey fighting’ SMSs on this ‘Monday to Friday’ plane!” No, it’s not a line from the latest Liam Neeson action vehicle, Non-Stop, but it could have been. There are so many ways one could slam this new film, but, surprisingly, despite its clichés and convoluted plot, this is still a thrilling and fun time at the movies.

I loved the Airport films of the Seventies, and Universal Pictures (the studio that made all of those airplane disaster movies) could have easily called this new effort, “Airport 2014″, and got away with it. Non-Stop is infused with all the components that made the Airport genre exciting, but with modern cultural relevance and today’s technology.

Please note that I’ve tried to keep this review spoiler free, and I don’t think I’ve revealed anything that isn’t in the film’s trailer; but if you prefer your movie-going mystery experience to be completely pure, then you might want to hold off on reading any further.

Neeson plays William “Bill” Marks, a gruff United States Air Marshall who’s seen a lot of bad times. He’s on duty aboard an international flight from New York to London, and when the trip reaches its midway point he begins getting text messages taunting him that a passenger will be killed every twenty-minutes until $150-million dollars is deposited into a certain bank account, that we find out actually belongs to the unlucky air-cop.

Non-StopMarks then has to fight with his bosses on the ground, who think he’s hijacked the plane; the plane’s crew who also thinks he’s involved; the passengers, who mostly just want to know what the heck is going on; and, of course, the actual bad-guy who is pulling all the strings – unless it actually is Marks – which is a possibility.

As long as you don’t think about it too much, Non-Stop is actually a pretty decent whodunit mystery set amongst the tight confines of a plane in flight above the Atlantic. Think Murder on the Orient Express, but with more action and no escape.

Director Jaume Collet-Serra, who also worked with Neeson on Unknown (2011), does a good job of allowing the audience to observe the passengers on the plane, even before they have boarded, and lets us make our own judgments about them before the story begins to unfold.

When we actually find out what is happening, it’s a little hackneyed, but not so much as to ruin the fun we had getting there – and besides, there is some cool zero gravity fighting that will quickly gloss over any misgivings you might have about the film’s ending.

I typically deplore too much computerized technology in films (nothing is duller than watching someone watch a computer screen or smart phone.) And I really dislike it when said electronics are techxaggerated* to the point that it makes your eyes roll (which happens more than once in this movie.) Even a tough-guy like Liam Neeson can only be moderately intimidating while sending a text message.

Non-StopThat said, I have to give Collet-Serra credit for showcasing the smart-phone usage and text messages in the least annoying way possible; and without the SMS text messaging, there wouldn’t have been much of a story here.

This film also stars Julianne Moore as a passenger who sides with Marks and tries to help him; Anson Mount (who is hardly recognizable if you know him from Hell on Wheels); and Corey Stoll (who you’ll recognize from House of Cards) as another passenger who may or may not be in on the hijacking.

I’ve heard some people say that Non-Stop is just Taken (Neeson’s action film franchise) set on a plane, and I disagree with that sentiment completely. It’s the same actor, but a completely different narrative and tone. It’s a guilty pleasure, but I have to admit I quite enjoyed this movie. Grade: 7/10

* Techxaggeration – When technology is used in a film, in an unbelievably exaggerating way, to quickly advance the story narrative.

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