‘Non-Stop’: Strictly coach

February 26, 2014

nonstop

If you crossed a disaster film from the 1970s with a low-budget action-thriller from the last five years, you’d get something that looks like “Non-Stop.”

It’s no wonder that Liam Neeson looked so chagrined to talk about it on “60 Minutes” this past Sunday. But as he noted, they’re paying him eight figures to work in this crap and Neeson, who has apparently made 20 films since his wife died five years ago, apparently wants to lose himself in his work.

Which also risks losing his reputation as a serious actor.

“Non-Stop” is as silly and repetitive as you’d imagine. It’s set aboard a trans-Atlantic flight from New York to London. We get a little “Flight” action early on, as Neeson’s character, Bill Marks, readies himself for the flight by hitting a bottle pretty hard before he boards the first-class cabin. As we quickly learn, he’s drinking on the job: He’s actually a federal air marshal.

There’s the obligatory introduction of several other passengers and crew played by familiar faces: They’re all suspects, of course, including Julianne Moore, Michelle Dockery, Corey Stoll, Nate Parker, Scoot McNairy, Linus Roache, Lupita Nyong’o and Anson Mount.

Suspects of what? Of being the person who is texting Marks from inside the plane, saying that he’s going to start killing passengers unless Marks arranges to have $150 million wire-transferred into a special account. Oooh, and there’s a catch: It turns out the account is in Marks’ name and the hijacker has arranged clues to frame Marks for the hijacking.

For a hot minute, director Jaume Collet-Serra (who directed Neeson in the equally ludicrous “Unknown”) and a trio of screenwriters have the viewer guessing: Is Marks actually the hijacker? Is he suffering from some sort of psychotic “Sybil”-like break, where there’s a second Marks doing things that the first Marks doesn’t know about?

But you know that’s not the case from the over-sharing trailers for the film – and that shot of a zero-gravity Neeson snatching a zero-gravity gun out of the air as it floats to his hand so he can waste a bad guy.

A split personality – or amnesia, as Neeson had in “Unknown” – would be too interesting for a movie that ultimately chooses the most random and perfunctory justification for the actions of its antagonists. There’s a 9/11 connection – I don’t count that revelation as a spoiler – that seems both cheap and manipulative.

Neeson spends the movie looking pained, as though he’s contemplating the size of the tax bite on his paycheck. Everyone else chews as much scenery as possible in their brief moments onscreen, so they’ll be noticed.

It won’t matter. “Non-Stop” is as forgettable as an airline meal and about as flavorful.

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