On bored 

Non-Stop needs a better route

The title Non-Stop refers to both the flight's literal direct path, and film's action, which is without interruption.

I know. I think the wordplay's amazing, too.

Liam Neeson stars as U.S. Air Marshal Bill Marks. We meet him in the morning, about to board a flight to London. Outside of Marks' car, the landscape has been drained of color and he pours himself a hefty shot of bourbon. Everything looks bleak and grayish-blue, because for drunk people, the world is a big bruise. Marks boards the plane with a carry-on and, clearly, past emotional baggage and secrets.

Such cramped quarters with a handful of highlighted players makes for a good Agatha Christie-style murder mystery. There's a pretty redhead named Jen Summers, played by Julianne Moore. Of her we know that she likes to sit by the window, she has an unexplained scar on her chest and she appears kind-hearted. We can probably trust Nancy, the brunette flight attendant played by Michelle Dockery. We've got a rude businessman on his cellphone, a snarky New York city cop who doesn't like the look of the Middle Eastern doctor, a nice old couple, a sniveling white businessman, a little girl to remind us we were all little girls on the inside once, and a bunch of extras with remarkably calm dispositions, considering everything that happens next.

Shortly after takeoff, Marks receives a series of cryptic texts on what should be his secure government-issued cellphone. The texts are all like, "I saw you smoking in the bathroom earlier" and "How's your daughter doing." The madman's plot is simple enough: He's going to kill someone on this plane every 20 minutes unless the government wires $150 million dollars into his bank account.

Cue the scene where Marks sighs heavily and sets his wristwatch to go off in 20 minutes, then watch with mild interest as he sleuths his way through the mystery. Time stretches and slows down at the film's convenience, or else they flew through some wormholes. The first segment ends with a corpse crumpled up in one of the airplane's many bathrooms, and now it's a full-on situation. The plot's complicated further when things take a turn for our flawed hero. Suddenly, the pilot's like, "They told me to take your gun and badge," but you know Liam Neeson isn't going down like that.

click to enlarge Jazz hands.
  • Jazz hands.

When it comes to the makings of an effective thriller, Non-Stop has a lot of good stuff to work with. Always the unsettling shadow of 9/11 looms, and even though it probably won't happen again today, it might? Now this sordid business: The passengers are all trapped on a plane with either an anonymous, psychotic texter in their midst, or else it's the marshal who's lost his mind, or both. Unfortunately, this film gets dumber as it goes along instead of smarter, and whatever potential the story had is wilted away with every turn of the screw.

After the first person's killed, the man from ground control says, "Cut the network," and Marks says, "I need to communicate with him." If you're anything like me, you're thinking, "But wait. Does he really?" Seems to me that if you cut off the madman's communication it takes all the fun out of the chase for him. He'd have to either keep killing people anonymously, or else stand up and start waving his gun around like, "Okay, it's me. Time to take this thriller offline." But the movie is committed to the text thing so the network stays on.

A good murder-mystery gives its audience a chance to see around the characters' motivations, to be able to, at the very least, make a guess at who's guilty. This movie's no good, because once it's all put together the clues don't amount to anything. You've been lied to, misdirected, made to follow red herrings—and don't even get me started on the villain's motivations. These conceits barely hold up on a first viewing. If ever anyone elects to watch this film twice, I worry the universe will unravel.

This is a dumb thriller for bored people. Never did I feel particularly worried about Marks or the fate of any of the passengers on board. Instead I caught myself thinking, "Meh. How precious is life really, anyway?" And that's wrong.

Non-Stop continues at the Carmike 12.

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