When his career began 30-some years ago, Liam Neeson was never a likely action star —and he isn’t today. Which probably explains why he is. He’s just this average guy who happens to stumble into ACTION.
“Non-Stop” is his latest and he shows no signs of stopping any time soon as long as decent enough scripts like this come his way and producers are willing to pay a hefty fee. He certainly earns that money since only his demeanor and star power make you willing to ignore logic and credibility, laugh a little and go with the Neeson flow.
In this outing he is a “flawed” man — Hollywood parlance for someone who smokes in airline terminals and takes one too many drinks. He also happens to be an air marshall on a routine NY-to-London flight that experiences terrorist turbulence.
The screenplay by John W. Richardson, Chris Roach and Ryan Engle is clever up to a point, but it’s Neeson who assures you that you’ll have a safe ride. He’s there in practically every shot and seemingly hovers over those where he’s not.
This is star power in first class. Nothing else explains why you’d believe a second of this movie. Neeson is an everyman you would like to think we all are but of course are not. You know he’s the good guy but if you were a passenger on this particular flight, you’d have every reason to think otherwise.
The film, directed efficiently by Juame Collet-Serra (“Unknown” also starring Neeson), plays a lot of tricks and the neatest one, a kind of reverse “High Noon,” has every passenger legitimately suspecting that Neeson’s air marshall is really a hijacker. Why cooperate with your captor, right?
The writers and producers sprinkle among the supporting cast the requisite enablers, detractors and suspects on this passenger airline cruising at 40,000 feet, all of whom, as in a good mystery or perhaps a sophisticated video game, must be examined for trustworthiness.
There’s Emmy-nominated Michelle Dockery. She plays a flight attendant plus she’s on “Downton Abbey” so how can she be a villainess? Corey Stoll plays an NYPD cop — no, he can’t be a bad guy, can he?
After this it gets hazy.
Nate Parker is a tech wiz — ouch, do we like these sorts? — Scoot McNairy is a nebbish, Omar Metwally is of course a Muslim — would they dare? — Anson Mount is a second air marshall — what flight has two air marshals so that’s weird — and Oscar nominee Lupita Nyong’o is another air hostess but this movie was made before her glory days so who knows?
So subplots exist within plots, all absurd but who cares — Liam is here. Oh wait, where did he go? Ah-hah, a brief though illegal cigarette break in the toilet he is now back again looking suitably ragged — after all, he is an alcoholic and smoker — but ready for another go at the villain. Only he remains invisible.
See, the story is this air marshall gets text messages on his cell phone — how did the bad guy get the number?— saying he will kill a passenger every 20 minutes if $150 million is not wired into a bank account. And people do die on that schedule but in each instance the air marshall could reasonably be the culprit. Hey, he’s being set up!
Now skip this part if you can’t stand Logic Nazis. After the movie is over, none of this makes any sense. You can back up the movie a month before the flight or more and still not come up with a reasonable explanation for how the bad guy or guys or girls or never mind knew exactly who would board that flight and how anybody would react.
So the third act while thrilling might disappoint viewers since the villains become reasonably clear, but a bit dull to tell the truth, and more importantly given too much God-like powers of intuition, perception and perspicacity.
It all comes down to Liam and he delivers the goods. I’m not sure how much longer he can continue playing these roles — he is 61 after all — but more power to him.
What will action producers do without him?
Opens: February 28, 2014 (Universal Pictures)
Production companies: Universal and StudioCanal present a Silver Pictures production in association with Anton Capital Entertainment S.C.A. and Lovefilm
Cast: Liam Neeson, Julianne Moore, Scoot McNairy, Michelle Dockery, Nate Parker, Jason Butler Harner, Anson Mount
Director: Juame Collet-Serra
Screenwriters: John W. Richardson & Chris Roach, Ryan Engle
Story by: John W. Richardson & Chris Roach
Producers: Joel Silver, Andrew Rona, Alex Heineman
Executive producers: Steve Richards, Ron Halpern, Olivier Courson, Herbert W. Gains, Jeff Wadlow
Director of photography: Flavio Labiano
Production designer: Alexander Hammond
Music: John Ottman
Costume designer: Catherine Marie Thomas
Editor: Jim May
PG-13 rating, 107 minutes