Liam Neeson’s Non-Stop ride to mediocrity

Can U.S. Air Marshals be foreign? There’s no way Liam Neeson could pass for American. This movie already doesn’t pass the smell test.

Neeson stars as down-on-his-luck air marshal Bill Marks in Non-Stop. After the plane takes off, Marks is texted a threat to kill one person every 20 minutes via his super-secret members-only phone network unless $150 million is wired to an account that turns out to be in his name. Tension, action, racism and negotiations with terrorists ensue.

Non-Stop, more than its own movie, is a wonderful metaphor for Neeson’s career. He started as an award-winning dramatic actor, but he’s devolved into an action star with swiftly-fading credibility and a gorgeous Irish accent.

Non-Stop starts as a harrowing account of a man whose entire world has turned against him, but devolves into a clone of Die Hard with a gorgeous Irish accent. This is, of course, an alternative to Alan Rickman’s malevolent, condescending European drawl, so it’s more of a trade-off than an advantage.

The opening few minutes really are fantastic. Director Jaume Collet-Serra beautifully captures the mundane terrors of air travel. The impersonality of the security line. The never-fully-suppressed feeling that you’re going to crash and die. The moment of shock and self-examination when you catch yourself profiling an Arab.

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Nobody believes Bill Marks when he says he isn’t hijacking the plane, so he pulls out his weapon and makes them listen to him. This movie really, really should have gone in a different direction. Photo courtesy Silver Light Pictures.

As the characters lift off, the film begins its decent. The first half hour or so of Marks’ search for the terrorist could have been the start of a Black Swan-esque decent into madness story, but that plotline gets diluted as the red herrings begin to stack up. In the end, the audience is left with the least interesting possible bad guy and a rushed stab at cultural relevance.

The movie is worth watching for the paranoia and tension in its first half, and one has to wonder what could have been. Non-Stop should have continued on its trajectory of broken mirrors and nonsense instead of pulling up at the last second and saying, “because! 9/11!”

It’s weird to suggest that such a tremendous actor should take less work, but Neeson has been trying way too hard the past few years. His breakout action role was 2008’s Taken, which was right after the exemplary Bourne trilogy had ended. Matt Damon’s intensely paranoid amnesiac had left on a very high note, but action movies as a genre looked like they were going to quickly run out of gas trying to replicate that success.

Then Taken immediately knocked one out of the park with an even better star, a simpler plot and a brilliant marketing campaign. But Neeson fell into the same trap that Damon largely avoided when he signed on for several re-iterations — Unknown, also directed by Collet-Serra, in 2011, The Grey and Taken 2 a year after that, The Lego Movie and A Million Ways to Die in the West this year in which he plays caricatures of the role he seems to want to be type-cast in — and when an actor falls into that trap, he drags the entire genre with him. Part of the reason Taken rose above mediocrity was because of a mystique Neeson had then, which is largely gone now.

Even in Non-Stop, he is absolutely radiant with charisma and dramatic talent. But the world would be a better place with more drama from Neeson, less action and fewer cameos.

Joshua Knopp is a formerly professional film critic, licensed massage therapist, journalism and film student at the University of North Texas and a senior staff writer for the NT Daily. If the American Red Cross is so American, then why is its logo from the Swiss flag? Doesn’t pass the smell test.  For questions, rebuttals and further guidance about cinema, you can reach him at reelentropy@gmail.com. At this point, I’d like to remind you that you shouldn’t actually go to movies and form your own opinions. That’s what I’m here for. 

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One Response to Liam Neeson’s Non-Stop ride to mediocrity

  1. Pingback: Non-Stop 2014 | Rocky's Reviews Today

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