When a film's opening shots consist of its protagonist prepping a hard drink for himself, it's hard to not assume the events that follow will be a little heavy-handed. When it's in slow motion, it's also easy to assume that it's going to be a tad laughable. But when he starts swirling the concoction around with a toothbrush, of all things, the thought that comes to mind is that it's going to be ridiculous.
Well, "Non-Stop" is a little bit of all three. The character's back story is inconsistent and exists solely as a means to force drama and the motivation of the mystery killer or killers is worthy of an eye roll, but it all plays out in such a ridiculous, over-the-top way that, if anything can be said for it, it's never dull. That doesn't mean it's good, mind you, but if you're looking for a stupid Liam Neeson thriller where you can turn your brain off, I suppose it works.
Bill (Neeson) is an Air Marshal prepping himself, through the consumption of alcohol, for a transatlantic flight. He hopes all will go well, as countless flights before this one have, but once in the air, he receives a text message on his supposedly secure phone from an anonymous person who demands $150 million to be transferred to an off-shore account.
For every 20 minutes this doesn't happen, this person is going to kill a passenger. Bill immediately springs into action, but he's up against a cunning mind, one that has pre-planned everything and saving the people on this plane is not going to be easy.
Liam Neeson surprised everyone and proved himself as a capable action star with 2008's "Taken" and even showed he could carry a mystery in 2011's "Unknown." In a sense, "Non-Stop" tries to blend those two together and the result is a jumbled mess, despite the cool, if admittedly thin, premise, but the problems arise quickly once you realize the movie has no idea what to do with it.
Instead of actually investigating the mystery, "Non-Stop" features what can only be described as an intense text war. He prods and pokes and tries to get information from the person on the other end of the incessant messaging, but finding actual clues happens almost solely by accident.
When he does make an attempt to reveal the texter's identity, he does so in ways that makes the most transparent person in the world look subtle. His tactics are obvious, to the point where nearly anyone on the plane could see or hear what he's doing; for example, loudly asking his row mate, Jen (Julianne Moore), to watch the screens that transmit camera footage of the passengers, the screens that are directly in front of the very people she's watching.
While the film does raise some palpable suspense at times, Bill's far-too-direct methods essentially kill it, as it's far too easy to realize that nothing's going to come from his attempts. Late in the movie when he makes a redemptive speech about how he's not a good father or good man, it takes every ounce of self-control to not stand up and yell, "You're not so hot an Air Marshal either."
"Non-Stop" is a turn-off-your-brain-and-enjoy-it type of film. It demands very little with its simple story and could have succeeded solely based on its desire to be a popcorn film. If that is its intention, how can one fault it for being just that? But then the reveal happens and, without ruining anything, an out-of-left-field political message rears its ugly head.
Whether one agrees or disagrees with the sentiments, it has no reason to exist in this movie. Why can't the motivation behind the actions similarly be simple? Why can't the perpetrator(s) simply want to be rich? The forced message in what amounts to a nonsense film sucks any goodwill one may have for it up to that point right out the window.
Much of this won't matter for some of the more astute viewers anyway, as the eventual reveal isn't all too surprising, so it's likely they'll have checked out far before it happens. If you're familiar with other popular TV shows and movies, you'll immediately know which passengers to focus on, as these stars wouldn't relegate themselves to extras, and then it's just a matter of time before you're able to dwindle down the possibilities, though the movie does a good enough job of doing that itself with far too heavy trickery to try to throw you off the trail. We've seen these tricks hundreds of times before, so they don't work.
Still, it's hard to truly trash "Non-Stop." It's dumb, but, aside from that wrongheaded political reveal, it doesn't aspire to be anything more. If the idea of Liam Neeson being Liam Neeson-y on a plane appeals to your senses, have at it. It's not great, but you could do worse.