I don't know what it is about the planes but they do seem to lend a certain "je ne sais quoi" to movies. Whether it's the claustrophobic environment with its shared intimacy or our general familiarity with air travel, staging a film on a commercial flight can often improve its chances to entertain. Zombies, snakes and terrorists have all benefited from this plot device, with varying degrees of success. So bearing this in mind, if you put Liam Neeson on a plane, you know that there's going to be more than just some in-flight turbulence. That is exactly what director Jaume Collet-Serra and writers Chris Roach and John Richardson have done with Non-Stop; a surprisingly entertaining action movie.
I say surprisingly because on paper the plot does seems rather workmanlike. Federal Air Marshall Bill Marks (Liam Neeson) is a burnt out drunk, still grieving over the death of his child. Whilst on an international flight to London he starts receiving text message threats from an anonymous source, claiming that a passenger will die very twenty minutes unless one hundred and fifty million dollars is paid into a specific bank account. His colleagues and immediate superiors quickly become skeptical when it is discovered that the account is in his name. Marks soon finds that he is the main suspect and that the passengers and crew are turning against him. Throw a bomb into the mix and you have a very contemporary but far from unusual narrative.
However, Non-Stop ups it's game in several ways and proves to be a very enjoyable one hundred and six minutes. First off Liam Neeson is incredibly watchable and carries movies such as this. His soft but assertive voice is compelling and he has a genuine screen presence. He also acquits himself very well with the movies physical demands. Non-Stop has some very good hand to hand fight scene, the standout one taking place in a toilet. The supporting cast is very competent with Julianne Moore playing a supportive passenger who backs Bill Marks when things start going south. There is also an eclectic collection of characters aboard the plane and it is pleasant to see the writers play with the concept of stereotypes and try to do something different.
Non-Stop also manages to bring a curious "whodunnit" vibe to the proceedings. Although the plot does become increasingly convoluted and fanciful, it doesn't lose the audience. In some ways, there is an element of Agatha Christie to the story as viewers ponder who on the plane is the villain of the piece. After all there's been a poisoning by this point (just not in the library). The bomb is another plot device that is handled with difference. "Isn't there a wire to cut" one of the passengers remarks. Not this time round and Mr. Neeson elects for a controlled explosion introducing one of Alfred Hitchcock's basic tenets about film making.
Despite the terrorism motif of the story, Non-Stop avoids anything more than a brief reference to 9/11. This is fast paced action movie and not an in-depth study in geopolitics. The speed of the narrative does have some down sides. Some of the cast have little to do beyond the functional and there are the usual logical plot flaws and willful ignorance of the laws of aerodynamics and physics. "It doesn't make any sense" laments Bill Marks as matters go from bad to worse. The thing is it doesn't always have to, as long as it's done with conviction. The primary motivation of Non-Stop is to entertain. Because it offers sufficient difference and the presence of Liam Neeson, who has become a seriously bankable action star, it achieves its goal.