Granted, I have not been keeping up with star Liam Neeson's career as closely as, I guess, I should have. I remember regarding him as a very serious and accomplished actor for most of my life. Maybe it was the Oscar win for Schindler's List or the underrated and heartfelt Love Actually. I think I should stop doing that since all he seems to do now are action films that are either the same thing over and over again or really, really bad. Non-Stop isn't bad. It doesn't join the ranks of Battleship, The Next Three Days or Clash of the Titans, but it does belong with the incredibly forgettable films of his career where it seems like he's in a pickle and has to punch and shoot his way out of it.
Non-Stop is an action murder mystery that takes place on a plane. Does that seem like a gimmick? At first, absolutely, but the premise of a Federal Air Marshal trying to stop a clever killer on a plane as an elaborate hijacking is at least interesting. What's really fun is that it feels like the 1974 classic Murder on the Orient Express. There is a killer in a trapped vehicle and everyone is a suspect. Whether it was intentional or not, I really enjoyed and appreciated that aspect of it even if it gets a little silly at the end.
Spanish director Jaume Collet-Serra is a name that you shouldn't recognize because he's made some pretty awful movies like House of Wax, Orphan and the other Liam Neeson shoot-em-up Unknown. He does a relatively noble job making something out of almost nothing with some interesting choices to move the story along. He also shows us some things we've never seen before but that's probably because they're too silly to have been thought up prior to this, such as an elaborate fight scene in an airplane bathroom. I would've enjoyed the film a lot more if it wasn't as slick and over-produced as he made it considering the simplicity to which the great Sidney Lumet made Murder on the Orient Express.
A team of co-stars was assembled for this that each have the capacity for stellar performances. Anson Mount (AMC's Hell on Wheels), Julianne Moore, Scoot McNairy (Argo, 12 Years a Slave) and Michelle Dockery (PBS's Downton Abbey, Hanna) are all wasted in roles that are as cliche and one-dimensional as you can get. The worst case of this is Lupita Nyong'o, who's nominated and will probably win the Oscar for 12 Years a Slave, in a role that has perhaps five whole minutes of combined screen time. In a movie where everyone is a suspect, these types of characters need to be deep, complex, suspicious and challenging. Sadly, in Non-Stop they are none of those.
I'm not a movie snob and I recognize that movies like this have their purpose in the culture of cinema. They're fun and silly and meant to be enjoyed for the 90 minutes you're staring at it and then forgotten about. What makes this one feel different is the motivation of the killer is deeply political and an important message. Fine, but don't put something like that in a movie where a gun rises in slow motion off the ground as the plane loses altitude just long enough for our hero to grab it in mid-air and fire it. Moments like that get an unintentional laugh from the audience. Again though, that's fine in the right movie; but if it happens moments after a character says the most interesting and profound statement in the film, you've made a lapse in judgement.