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Liam Neeson flops in Non-Stop

Liam Neeson’s most recent effort in the once-Oscar-winner-turned-action-hero’s series of gruff federal agent movies, Non-Stop, is quite the failed experiment. The promising airplane thriller unfortunately proved to be an unintentionally campy, often embarrassingly funny shamble of a film with a most ridiculous plot and the most laughable dialogue.
Neeson plays Federal Air Marshal Bill Marks who, after boarding a routine flight from Kennedy International Airport to London Heathrow Airport, receives a series of text messages wherein the sender demands $150 million or someone on board will die every 20 minutes. The now-paranoid Marks begins frantically trying to find the person responsible and quickly proves to be America’s most inept air marshal. Through a convoluted set of twists, however, Marks himself becomes the prime suspect and must now also work to clear his name.
The film begins promisingly: Up until Marks receives the first text message, an underlying sense of dread underscores every scene. Yet the reveal of that first text is the movie’s highest point. Quickly thereafter begins a nearly 30-minute sequence of Neeson gallivanting around the plane, accusing unknowing passengers and making a fool out of himself. I quickly grew bored with the marshal’s antics and movie’s entire second act just seemed lazy.
And thus began the film’s ongoing obsession with laziness. It seems like director Jaume Collet-Serra decided to waste every scene that could have been used for character development (of which there is none) or plot development (Ha, what plot?) with Neeson trotting around the plane, looking concerned and roughing up passengers.
As for wasting things, underusing the talents of House of Cards’ Corey Stoll should be a federal offense at the very least. Stoll, a brilliant yet underutilized actor, had more screen time in the dozens of drive-by close-ups of his face than he had actual dialogue. Plus, like most of the other passengers on board, his role was simply to fill a seat, look scared and suspicious, and maybe yell something. Aside from Neeson’s Marks, not one character had a real effect on the film’s outcome.
For example, Julianne Moore’s character was relegated to a not-quite love interest and not-quite comic relief role, which left her without any real reason to be in the film beyond looking longingly at Neeson and cracking a few one-liners. Reduced to a talking head, her inclusion in the film must have merely been to add another big-name actor to the billing.
For a movie in which plane passengers are being killed by someone sitting among them, it takes an awful long time before Marks decides it is necessary to tell the passengers anything. He instead decides it is more productive to walk back and forth around the cabin, wave a gun and threaten any curious passengers. Even though he is supposedly a trained federal agent, Marks shows no ability to handle any credible threat and, at one point, holes himself up in the bathroom with a cigarette and a glass of scotch, because that’s definitely the best way to handle this situation.
But perhaps this is just one of the few instances of intentional comedy. There were many times when characters’ serious dialogue and reactions elicited far more prominent, audience-wide laughter. When Marks decides to bare his heart to the passengers in a one-sentence character summary aimed to drum up support for the marshal, audience members couldn’t help but chuckle. The passengers that were at his throat just seconds before began to nod sadly and gaze understandingly at the vulnerable Marks, and I half-expected the plane to erupt in slow clap. However, nothing matched the “climactic” action sequence – which had the entire theater howling with laughter rather than gasping with the intended suspense and excitement.
Like any of the recent Neeson thrillers, this film had a twist ending. Shocker! Admittedly, nobody saw it coming, but that’s only because it was completely underwhelming. And once revealed, the real “bad guy” had zero depth like nearly every other one-note character. The audience is left rooting for Marks, not because they like him, but because this evildoer is so gratingly annoying.
Annoying. That’s the best way to sum up Non-Stop. By the end of the movie, I was completely annoyed by the careless lack of character development, coherent dialogue and effort that went into the film. I could smell Collet-Serra’s smugness from 15 rows back in the theater, the smugness of a man who knows he put no effort into this film and still received a fat paycheck. But maybe one of these days Neeson will wise up, act in a movie that deserves his high-caliber performance and put the inept Collet-Serra out of a job.

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