Liam Neeson is on a plane, in this new high-concept thriller. High being the operative word. The gruff Irishman plays a gruff Irishman, this time an air marshal who has more personal issues than you’ve had disappointing airline dinners. On a transatlantic flight, he receives an anonymous threat: that one person on the plane will die every 20 minutes.
It’s a solid premise and, for the most part, Non-Stop delivers. Like Red Eye before it, the film uses the claustrophobic and volatile setting of a metal box flying through the air to exciting effect, and though it lacks the thrills and chills of Wes Craven’s movie, there are still moments even more tense than walking through an airport metal detector while wearing a watch. The Oscar-nominated Liam Neeson growls his way towards another paycheque, having spoken candidly about his financial motivation for doing these fun action roles while in his 60s. But once again he nails the role of angry man with a gun in a place. At first the combination of Liam Neeson and airports brings to mind Love Actually, as if this is some sort of unofficial sequel.
Then he starts beating up innocent people, intimidating passengers and generally shaft-ing the rule of law. Because like Samuel L. Jackson in Shaft, Liam Neeson is fired from his job in law enforcement about five minutes into the movie, which means from then on he’s acting as a private citizen. This is something of a convention in action cinema, with worrying political implications brushed aside by virtue of a predetermined positive outcome inherent in Hollywood cinema. What they don’t show is the aftermath of the film, where Liam Neeson is bankrupted by all the wholly justifiable lawsuits filed by the litigious American passengers he threatened and injured over the course of the movie. All the post-9/11 security propaganda is so right-wing that it’s astonishing the plane doesn’t completely tip over.
But ignoring the politics, and that the plot is as mad as a bag of peanuts, Non-Stop is armrest-gripping good fun. The sky-high energy levels are kept up by Julianne Moore, Scoot McNairy and Nate Parker, who looks disconcertingly like Carlton from The Fresh Prince of Bel Air. Lupita Nyong’o also stars, and doubtless the movie’s premiere was the highlight of her week. It’s easy to mock a film like Non-Stop, as proven over the last 400 words, but it’s a great ride that does exactly what it says on the flying metal tin. It’s like a silly version of Airplane.