(See: Snakes on a Plane or Flightplan for above references. No, better yet, don’t see Snakes on a Plane or Flightplan. Just go watch Airplane! instead.)
The aviation disaster movie is quite an odd sub-genre when you think about it. How can all of this mayhem happen on one flight with people moving about, texting each other, falling in love, blowing crap up, rescuing small children, and having a gin and tonic (or two) in first class? Has anyone in Hollywood ever actually flown on a plane? You can’t move, you’re sweaty, you’re tired, you wonder whether your travel bag will actually fit in the overhead bin with all the junk you’ve squeezed in there, you’re charged $25 every time you sneeze. Whatever. Ah, the glamor of air travel.
Yes, Non-Stop is guilty of these crimes of celluloid illogic as well, but it’s also a gripping potboiler that is more Ten Little Indians than United 93.
The plot in short is that, while a gajilllion feet in the air en route to London, an improbably large and spacious jumbo jet is carrying an unknown terrorist who plans to off one passenger every 20 minutes if Liam Neeson’s character doesn’t get $150 meeeel-lion dollars wired to some Swiss bank account somewhere. (Does anyone in really life actually have a Swiss bank account? Sounds so darn appealingly exotic, doesn’t it?)
Much of the film is spent with Neeson scuttling about the plane, slowly eliminating one suspect after another. And occasionally doing something sweet like returning a little girl’s teddy bear just to remind us he’s a nice guy.
The filmmakers do a fine job, albeit a predictable/conventional one, building tension and directing/redirecting/misdirecting our suspicions about who the big bad wolf actually may be … though there is one humdinger of an improbable turn when all the TV screens in the cabin start projecting news footage of Liam Neeson’s character being accused of all the wrongdoing.
Say what you will about his acting ability, Liam Neeson is just such a presence, big and rangy and glowering, like a malamute with an Irish brogue. And the filmmakers wisely pair him with the delightful Julianne Moore, as a Nancy Drew-resourceful fellow passenger, who seems to be telegraphing, “Yeah, I know I’m slumming in this b-movie crud, but I’m having a pixie-ish good time, and, heck, Liam’s nice to look at and my hair is really pretty and I get to wear fab reading glasses and say cute/insightful/marginally prophetic things [like the very title of this review!] every once in awhile.” Moore does plucky so well, and she brings some much-needed lightness to the proceedings.
Filling out the supporting cast, Downton Abbey‘s Michelle Dockery and 12 Years a Slave‘s Oscar nominee Lupita Nyong’o make the most of their criminally underwritten roles as worried/officious flight attendants, and Scoot McNairy (normally much better than this) plays a sweaty little dirtbag school teacher saddled with some truly unfortunate monologuing toward the film’s denouement.
At one point, it’s like the needle skips the record and McNairy’s character suddenly turns into Lex Luthor explaining some purpose/point-of-view so muddled it’s obvious the filmmakers’ true intent got focus grouped into oblivion. (I probably should have said “spoiler alert,” but I’m not sure I actually spoiled anything as I’m still foggy about what even transpired.)
The film’s strongest moment is actually its opening sequence. Akin to the much, much, much superior Captain Phillips, we are given a set-up showing a well-intentioned fellow (Neeson) getting ready for his day, trying to make an honest living, while burdened with some intriguingly nebulous demons. This kind of thing is right in Neeson’s acting sweet spot. We see him making his way through the modern day cesspit that is an American airport, surrounding by nameless/faceless drones consumed in the spooky glow of their smart phone lives.
In these opening moments, Neeson’s utter disgust, disappointment, and despondency with this claustrophic/xenophobic state of life in the U.S. of A. is palpable and haunting. I wish the filmmakers had had the courage to make the rest of that movie.
Reel Roy Reviews is now a book! In addition to online ordering at Amazon or from the publisher Open Books, the book currently is being carried by Bookbound in Ann Arbor, Michigan; by Green Brain Comics in Dearborn, Michigan; and by Memory Lane Gift Shop in Columbia City, Indiana. Bookbound and Memory Lane both also have copies of Susie Duncan Sexton’s Secrets of an Old Typewriter series.