I'm not trying to be a hero! I'M FIGHTING THE DRAGON!!

Non-Stop

tn_nonstopSo far I think I like the idea of Liam Neeson action vehicles more than the actual execution of them. Both TAKENs were fun, but with post-actiony scuffles and not as tight of storytelling as I prefer in a formula revenge movie. UNKNOWN from what I remember was kinda fun, but what was it about again? He was playing an amnesiac I believe? Yeah, that’s about how I feel about that one.

By far my favorite of this cycle is THE GREY, but that’s because it was all about manly drama. Most of the actual action (anything involving wolves) was as indecipherable as they come. So I came to his new airplane suspense thriller (from UNKNOWN director Jaume Collet-Serra) pretty jaded, but I enjoyed it more than expected.

mp_nonstopNeeson plays depressed grieving alcoholic air marshal Bill Marks, who starts getting threatening text messages during a late night flight to London. Somebody seems to know alot about him, and they seem to be on the plane, and they’re threatening to kill someone on the plane every 20 minutes until $150 million is transferred into an account. Of course, people do start turning up dead, and he’s trying to figure out who’s responsible (he does a whole lot of watching people to see if they’re texting) and how to stop them.

I’ve never been on an international flight, do they really give you this much room? Not only is there a “business lounge” and a decent-sized flight attendant hang out area, there’s so much legroom! They can lean their seats all the way back. One couple even screws around. And they never seem to be pushing carts down, blocking the aisle. Not claustrophobic. It’s an impressive set because the camera is able to float through it freely, it looks like it’s really inside a plane but it never feels like it’s gonna bump its head on the overhead compartment.

That said, there’s no bar like there would be on a train, so Bill has to go into the bathroom every time he wants to sit and brood with a drink. Also, it’s still a plane, there’s no room to crawl under the seats like he told his daughter to do under the bed in TAKEN. So he’s fucked.

It’s big for a plane, but for a movie setting it’s very contained. It’s always fun to take such a limited setup and then cram it full of complications: drugs, bombs, traitors, a set up. He has previous relationships with a flight attendant, the pilots, another air marshal, and people he talks to over the radio. He develops new ones with an asshole passenger who keeps annoying him, the crazy lady who trades to sit next to him (Julianne Moore, ASSASSINS), and various others on the plane. You get to know way more people than you would get to know on an actual flight. Even the guy who’s gonna play Dr. Dre is on there as a sullen teen. There’s kind of a message to how it develops these characters: the camera stops on their grimacing features many times, casting them as suspects before we find out who they are. Profiling.

As a whodunit it worked on me. The first major twist caught me by surprise and I munched on at least one of the red herrings. [SPOILER: that the pilots make him talk to someone on the ground who he doesn’t know and then he keeps answering the phone instead of calling convinced me that the pilots were in  on it and having him talk to a fake person] By the end I didn’t care that much about who did it, and didn’t completely understand the plan of the revealed perpetrators. But unlike in actual air travel it’s the journey that matters, not the destination.

Another mild spoiler: I kept thinking Academy Award winner Lupita Nyong’o was gonna be the bad guy, because she plays a flight attendant and barely has any lines. But of course it’s just because they had no idea she was anybody when they filmed the part. At least she’s not dancing around, spinning a basketball and singing into a comb like Jamie Foxx in STEALTH right after his Oscar.

This is about as post 9-11 as a thriller could get, because not only the subtext but the premise are dependent on the world created by those assholes that did that thing back then. Because of what happened on that day everyone on planes has to consider that a hijacker might want to crash the plane and therefore it’s very reasonable for the innocent passengers to think they have to risk their lives to kill this guy with the gun. They have every reason to worry that he’s the bad guy. At one point you really wonder if he’s gonna have to beat up every passenger on the whole plane.

Incidentally, the little bit of fighting in the movie is pretty cool. I like the fight in the bathroom. Talk about close quarters. Very fast and blunt, like early Seagal hand-to-hand.

What really impressed me though is the war on terror satire. You got a good idea that Neeson is right about this, but it’s still really uncomfortable to watch a guy go so overboard in his investigation while the movie seems to be telling you he’s the hero. He makes everybody in the plane put their hands on the seats in front of them, questions and frisks people, looks at their phones to see who they called last, threatens people who hesitate to cooperate, pulls his gun on people. They all feel violated and threatened and don’t trust him. They keep demanding to know what’s going on, and he keeps lying or avoiding the question, making people more and more upset.

In a way though I suppose that’s a pretty optimistic take on the state of America. Another way to do it would be to have him terrorize the people like that and everybody is okay with it.

One of the three credited writers, Christopher Roach, previously worked as a writer for WWE. So this coulda very well ended up starring Triple-H and Parker Posey. Director Collet-Serra has yet to deliver on the weirdo promise of ORPHAN, but this is good enough for me to keep giving him a shot.

VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.
This entry was posted on Thursday, June 26th, 2014 at 2:33 am and is filed under Reviews, Thriller. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

28 Responses to “Non-Stop”

  1. Dikembe Mutombo

    June 26th, 2014 at 7:18 am

    Yeah I thought this was a pretty cool hitchcock-y action thing that kept me involved. I feel like there needs to be a specific name for this genre of thriller where you can practically see the screenwriter pulling the strings and coming up with a gonzo twist every 15 mins. SPEED feels to me like the grandfather of that kind of movie, I know it was DIE HARD on a bus but DH was way more organic in its plotting. (Don’t get me wrong I don’t mean it in a derisive way, I love these movies.)

    I agree about THE GREY being Neeson’s best post-Taken movie. I’d like to see him do a team-up movie with Denzel. Also I really like that Scoot McNairy guy and it was cool seeing him in this.

  2. The Original... Paul

    June 26th, 2014 at 7:42 am

    I was suspicious of the second flight attendant as well, Vern. In the end I was completely wrong about whodunit, but in a good way. It wasn’t one of those times where I was left scratching my head and asking: “Seriously? That makes no freaking sense, and anyway how the heck were we supposed to have had any idea?” The clues were there.

    [SPOILER] I did note, about halfway through the film, that if the “tracing the phone” thing were a setup, there was really only one person who could’ve done it. But for some reason I forgot about that person until the end, when it actually did turn out that I was right. I was a little annoyed with myself over that one. [/SPOILER]

    I wouldn’t say this was a great movie, but it was just what I was after. I love high-tension whodunnits of this kind unless they’re done really badly, and this wasn’t. Of the two times I’ve been post-9/11’d in the cinema this year, this was by far the best.

    As for my other gripes / praises, I’ll just repeat what I said in the forums:

    It does lose it at some points, though, with some moments of real stupidity. It is really necessary that everything that happens at the end, happens? Honestly it makes the thing TOO frenetic, trying to fit in too much stuff. (The editing also suffers in this respect – seriously, there’s some really bad post-action stuff towards the finish.) Those of you who aren’t fans of the whole “dead relative syndrome” will probably dislike this movie intensely, because at least three characters (those were the ones that I counted, I actually might’ve missed one or two) all have major traits relating to recently-deceased family members.

    So not the best or the smartest film ever, but Neeson is good, the supporting cast is mostly good, the tension is kept up very well, and the whodunnit aspect works. If you like tense claustrophobic thrillers with a whodunnit aspect then this one might press your buttons.

  3. What I thought was most entertaining about this one was how skillfully it played the red herring game. It didn’t just give you one or two; every single person on that plane was given a detail that made you suspect them. Like the guy who was in the NYPD, just like Neeson used to be. Was that a connection? The characters never explored that possibility, which just made it seem like a plausible solution to the mystery, since misdirection is what movies like this are all about. Clearly, whatever the movie is trying to get you to look at is not the answer, so it must be something they’re trying to get you to ignore, while still setting it up enough for it to make sense in the end. (The shot of the cook in HUNT FOR RED OCTOBER, for example). Usually, movies are edited so ruthlessly that you know for sure that any seemingly extraneous detail is actually crucial to the plot, but UNKNOWN played it smart by giving you way more data than you needed, thus obfuscating the truth. It was great fun to sift through all the available options and form my own theories. Of course, that all ended when the killer’s identity turned out to VAGUE SPOILERS I GUESS follow my first rule of whodunits: If there is a character who is cleared of suspicion early in the proceedings, that character did it. (See: SCREAM) But like Vern said, it’s the journey, not the destination. I liked it.

    Also, it was awesome watching 6′ 5″ Neeson just manhandling motherfuckers in enclosed spaces, even when said motherfuckers didn’t really deserve it. It was like they were locked in a cage with a lanky gorilla. Very satisfying.

  4. I thought this was pretty good. I don’t really remember a shitload about it already, but I remember enjoying it. I am very pro-Neeson-as-action-star. He always brings everything he’s got to these roles (The Grey specifically was awesome), like he’s playing Michael Collins or Oscar Schindler and not John Taken or whoever. It doesn’t matter to him, he’s here and he’s gonna do his job to the best of his abilities. And the movies have so far been pretty fun. I usually buy em on bluray sight unseen, because they’re always six bucks and except maybe Taken 2 PG-13, haven’t disappointed me. This one I actually saw in theaters, and we left feeling like he hadn’t wasted our money, which is always a plus

  5. Alien vs Herbivore

    June 26th, 2014 at 9:23 am

    I’d like to see this premise on a Wizzair flight.

    “Stewardess, I need you to help me check all the passengers. I need a second pair of eyes. I need to know who uses a cellphone or a tablet, and in which section.”

    “But you can see everyone on the flight from here, sir. Even the last row is just a dozen steps away.”

    “Oh… right. Let me just stand up to watch them, then. (bumps head on the ceiling). Dammit!”

    And the same on Ryanair.

    “Captain, I need your help with…”

    “No problem, sir; that’ll be an additional charge of E400. Let me connect you to our ticket representative.”

  6. The Original... Paul

    June 26th, 2014 at 10:03 am

    Ryanair? They’d just let the plane get blown up. It’d probably be an improvement, come to think of it.

    (Yeah, I’ve made a travel decision or two that I regret.)

  7. The Original... Paul

    June 26th, 2014 at 10:04 am

    An improvement to THE PLANE, you understand. I feel that after that last post, I need to state, for the record and the CIA if they’re monitoring this forum of dangerous deviants, that I am not condoning or mandating the act of planting bombs on commercial aircraft.

  8. Vern – I’m surprised you didn’t bring up that this was produced by Joel Siver. Considering his filmography, the whole scheme/motivations seems predictable in retrospect. Fun Fact: NON-STOP is his first non-Warner Bros. movie in decades. (He and the Shield divorced after he produced too many flops for them.)

    I think it was Forbes who called Neeson the last true action hero, in the tradition of Eastwood and Schwarzenegger and so forth, that action movie star that you paid to see him be confronted with a high conceptual obstacle and kick its ass. And I think to be fair, most of his solo cash-ins-on-TAKEN have been very good star vehicles for him. Sure UNKNOWN makes little sense when you actually stop and think about its plot, but its good entertainment. So is THE GREY.

    Somebody above points to his acting, and yes he does sell these actioneer plots as Shakespeare but I think you folks are missing out on his biggest asset strangely enough: His age. Or put it another way, you all remember DARKMAN right? That was a decent hit, but Hollywood didn’t exactly throw him action scripts afterwards. Give him his last few movies back then, I don’t know if they would’e been as effective or successful. I think his age sells a weariness (especially with those now trademark shrieks) that by demands of his plots turn into desperation that that adds audience credibility, like whenever graying Eastwood had little tolerance for bullshit.

    If anything, Serra seems to know how to compliment Neeson and maximize his assets (like old school actioneers used to do) while giving decent casts to work with. That team is good for each other.

  9. I thought this was a fun one, seems like it’s been forever since I saw a thriller this intent on keeping you entertained. Totally don’t mind having my intelligence insulted for results like these.

    Random note: Holy shit, that NY cop is the same guy who played Hemingway in MIDNIGHT IN PARIS!?

  10. For me this film confirmed Liam Neeson is at a point where he can elevate B movies by his presence alone. Its by no means a good movie but its really fun and mostly down to his performance. It reminds me of Charles Bronson, both guys have this natural charisma and empathy that makes their filmsbetter than they really are!
    I really enjoyed this one but dont want to think about it too much because I don’t think ill like it as much if I do, its definitely a single dose movie at hearh

  11. The Original... Paul

    June 26th, 2014 at 1:03 pm

    One of the good things about this one is that everybody you speak to thinks the “who” of the “whodunnit” was somebody different. My friend who I went to see the movie with was convinced that the cop, Riley, was the guilty party. My own suspicions went between Julianne Moore’s character, Zack, and the second flight attendant. And I know another guy who was convinced that the flight attendant who knew Neeson’s character was in on the whole thing.

  12. I think it’s interesting that Liam Neeson now inhabits a niche in the movie market once occupied by Harrison Ford — the “tall, middle aged male with a gravelly voice kicking ass”. I guess you might say that together with Tom Cruise, they embody the badass potential of the middle-aged male across the whole range of bodily height. Makes me a bit more relaxed about growing older.

    Incidentally, wouldn’t it be intriguing if Neeson took over from Ford as INDIANA JONES? He’s not that much younger, sure, but he’s aged more gracefully, and he could still quite credibly play the sort of character that Ford played in LAST CRUSADE. Ah, I don’t know. They’re apparently making another INDIANA JONES film anyway, and I haven’t got a clue how they’ll prevent Ford from looking like an old man this time around. That will be a sorry sight.

    That being said, it’s a shame that the “Liam Neeson action hero formula” was never paired with a better creative team. Like Dwayne Johnson, THE EXPENDABLES, and late-period Seagal, I suspect that ass-kicking Liam Neeson will belong to that class of cinematic concepts that are, by all accounts, awesome in our imagination, but that never find fulfillment in a project worthy of the concept. For shame. If you were a young, passionate, aspiring Hollywood filmmaker, wouldn’t you want to put these people in better movies? I know some of you soon-to-be-hacks must be reading this. Get the fuck to work and become a household name in the process.

  13. I loved this movie but I was pretty disappointed it didn’t have the same plot twist as Orphan. They built it up so well!

    The director said he pretty much rewrote the script from scratch. Good for him.

    Off the top of my head, there aren’t a ton of airplane fights. Mainly crappy ones in Bond movies and Transporter 2. Did any ever come out of Hong Kong? Best I can think of is probably Knight and Day, which I recall being cut too fast but it made good use of everything in the plane as a weapon.

    Also, they definitely cheated a lot but if you’re in first class on an international flight it’s pretty spacious.

  14. Sam – check out ROYAL WARRIORS for a good Hong Kong made plane fight.

    http://www.outlawvern.com/2014/01/29/royal-warriors/

  15. KaeptnKrautsalat

    June 27th, 2014 at 12:57 am

    What’s up with this “SPEED is DIE HARD on a bus” stuff? It doesn’t actually stick to the Die Hard formula, unlike many other 90s action films.

  16. Dikembe Mutombo

    June 27th, 2014 at 8:53 am

    RRA – I think you’re right about age being a factor in his popularity now, along with all his other Neesonly qualities (intensity, charisma, gravitas, even warmth). It also helps that he’s physically believable – when he throws a punch it looks like it’s doing real damage.

    Peter C – yeah, both Neeson and The Rock deserve a better class of action vehicle. Statham too, though I hold SAFE in pretty high esteem.

    KaeptnKrautsalat – You’re right, it deserves more credit than that. I love SPEED and it’s pretty firmly its own thing. At the same time I don’t know if it exists in the form we know it if not for DIE HARD. Everything springs forth from DIE HARD.

  17. Sam — “I loved this movie but I was pretty disappointed it didn’t have the same plot twist as Orphan.”

    You mean (ORPHAN SPOILERS, SERIOUSLY, DON’T READ THIS IF YOU HAVEN’T SEEN IT) that at the end it’s revealed that Liam Neeson is actually an evil Estonian Midget? (END ORPHAN SPOILERS)

  18. I’m looking forward to Vern’s review of Black Samurai, starring Jim Kelly.

  19. The Original... Paul

    June 27th, 2014 at 12:51 pm

    Mr S – you’re right, that’s clearly a real-life twist, not a movie one.

  20. The Original... Paul

    June 27th, 2014 at 12:52 pm

    RCC – I thought Vern had already done that one? Actually I thought I’d watched it on his recommendation.

  21. “I love SPEED and it’s pretty firmly its own thing. At the same time I don’t know if it exists in the form we know it if not for DIE HARD. Everything springs forth from DIE HARD.”

    Correct. After all, the director of Speed (Jan de Bont) was also the director of photography on Die Hard.

  22. I did a search before I posted and came up negative. Black Samurai, coming up!

  23. This was great fun. The Late-Period Liam Neeson action movies all seem like crude satire of Post 9/11 American-male hysteria – yet they’re somehow still pretty satisfying, cathartic and enjoyable. Without ever actually being all the way great. Hope they totally nail one in the future.

  24. Dikembe – its just weird how Neeson is a bigger action film star than Arnold and Sly combined these days.

  25. I was distracted: the guy who played the Muslim Doctor looked a lot like Christopher Guest.

  26. Really loved this movie up until the reveal and then it came down quite a bit (both the plane and the film). It’s so good at stringing the viewer along that no answer could be that satisfying and this one is particularly dumb. Still, more good than bad.

    [spoiler]I want to make the joke “The bomb is coming from inside the coke” but obviously it’s a spoiler. That may be the most I’ve ever laughed at a single moment in a theater.[spoiler]

  27. I liked this one more then I expected. It had some good plot twists and I actually couldn’t figure out where it was headed in the first 20 minutes of the film, but I found the climax a little under whelming. Watching Neeson at this point in his career makes me wish they would make a 007 film featuring Nesson as an aging Bond at the tail end of his career or that has retired and been called back into action.

  28. I just saw this last night and I agree with the consensus here – fun, tense, and not to be taken too seriously. I was able to roll with most of the silliness, but I want to nitpick anyway. These are not to be taken as criticisms because I did really enjoy watching it. They’re just things I thought. SPOILERS AHEAD.

    Seriously about being able to time these murders down to the minute? You can release gas into a cockpit and kill only one guy and time it down to the minute? You can stick a poison needle in someone’s clothes and it doesn’t kill him until he gets slammed around by the air marshal? I get a crumb down my collar and I go fucking nuts, but this guy doesn’t feel a sharp needle pressing against him?

    Seriously about the millions of dollars in Neeson’s account is in a trust, so as soon as he dies it will release to their accounts? It’s not a magic spell. The money doesn’t transfer the moment he dies. It’s going to go through much legal hoopla that would include, if nothing else, a death certificate, which would give the authorities plenty of time to seize the funds.

    And lastly, Collet-Serra really missed a golden opportunity when Neeson pulled the girl in from being sucked out of the plane. He should’ve just missed grabbing her and instead was able to catch the trailing end of the ribbon tied around her hand, pulling her in to safety.

    All in all, a fun movie.

Leave a Reply





XHTML: You can use: <a href="" title=""> <img src=""> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <b> <i> <strike> <em> <strong>