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Thursday, March 6, 2014 12:01 am

Non-Stop flaws

Liam Neeson stars as Bill Marks in Non-Stop.
PHOTO BY UNIVERSAL PICTURES

 

Liam Neeson continues to save the day in Jaume Collet-Serra’s Non-Stop, a claustrophobic thriller that, if nothing else, lives up to its title. Never before has a film been so stagnant in setting, yet brisk in the way it tells its tale. It hits the ground running and barely stops to catch its breath. However, there’s a method to this madness. Collet-Serra knows that the screenplay, with three credited writers, would never hold water if the audience was given the opportunity to try to put all of its narrative pieces together. More than a few lapses in logic would rear their ugly heads but the director is hoping that if Neeson can glower, punch and shot often enough, we won’t mind that the movie pulls a regrettable third act fade.

Neeson is Federal Air Marshall Bill Marks, who we immediately identify as a man haunted by his past. The actor’s haggard look and the fact that he starts his day with a couple of shots of whiskey in his coffee are dead giveaways, but of course our man-in-the-air perseveres while we’re safe in the knowledge his woes will be revealed in time. He boards a flight from New York City to London and once they’re out over the Atlantic, he begins to get cryptic texts on a secure line from someone on board threatening to kill a fellow passenger every 20 minutes unless $150 million is transferred to an offshore account. While the plane’s pilot (Linus Roache) scoffs at this threat, Marks is on guard, though he’s not quite sharp enough to prevent the first killing, which occurs in a most unexpected manner. From then on, it’s a game of beat the clock. The timer on his wristwatch is reset after each death and he attempts to outwit the unknown killer before he strikes again.

The film contains the usual assortment of shady characters about whom we’re given just enough information to suspect them as the culprit. Chief among them is Corey Stoll (House of Cards) as suspicious passenger Austin Reilly, the rude but tech savvy Travis Mitchell (Corey Hawkins) and even Marks’ fellow Air Marshall Jack Hammond (Anson Mount). Of course, Jen Summers (Julianne Moore) is an immediate person of interest when she insists on having a window seat. The script is full of unexplained actions. Vague text, a furtive look or pregnant pause carries the added weight of possibly hiding a vital secret.

To his credit, Collet-Serra does a fine job ratcheting up the tension repeatedly. He has the opportunity to do so again and again whenever Marks is required to reset the 20-minute countdown. Collet-Serra also uses an interesting device in which he displays on screen the cryptic text messages that bombard our hero so that no time is wasted with shots of the phone’s screen, facilitating a continued flow of action. One of the nicer moments occurs when Marks is in a particularly tight spot and the messages are orbiting around him, underscoring the fact that he’s been hemmed in by the threat these missives have conveyed. Pretty neat ….

However, Collet-Serra’s pizzazz and Neeson’s presence can’t trump the ludicrous twists that are unveiled. The final countdown in the form of a bomb’s timer, ticks its way down to zero. Once the bad guys are revealed and their motives explained, the phrase, “You’ve got to be kidding me,” is likely to spring to mind. This, as well as some particularly heavy-handed moments as the plane makes its final descent undoes a great deal of good work from the cast and the director, all of whom should have refused to board this particular cinematic flight until an intelligent conclusion was concocted.

Contact Chuck Koplinski at ckoplinski@usd116.org.

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