2014 is starting off well for me as far as brand-new movies are concerned.
Whereas in 2013 I was only interested in seeing three new films the entire year -- all from Disney! -- here it is mid-February and I've already seen four new movies, all of which I've enjoyed. Today's "new" film was the aviation thriller NON-STOP (2014), an entertaining blending of old-fashioned Agatha Christie style suspense with modern technology.
Bill Marks (Liam Neeson) is a troubled federal air marshal who relies too much on alcohol and cigarettes to make it through his day. Bill is a white-knuckle flyer, at least when it comes to takeoffs, but just when he should be relaxing into a routine flight to London, he begins receiving a series of disturbing text messages. The texts, which reveal the sender also knows about Bill's private life, promise that someone aboard the flight will die every 20 minutes unless $150 million is wired to a bank account.
As time passes and bodies do indeed begin to mount, Bill must suspect anyone and everyone, including the friendly woman sitting next to him (Julianne Moore), stewardess Nancy (Michelle Dockery of DOWNTON ABBEY), a tough-looking cop (Corey Stoll), a Muslim doctor (Omar Metwally), and any number of other possibilities aboard the flight. An even bigger problem presents itself as the flight goes on and Bill learns that he's been framed so that law enforcement on the ground, and hence the pilots, believe that he
is the hijacker.
I found this movie highly enjoyable, particularly as I love airplane movies. It probably helps not to overthink the plot too much, as some aspects seem a bit weak, including the willingness of TSA to immediately believe the worst of their marshal. (The other air marshal on the flight and the buffoonish voices on the ground don't exactly inspire confidence in the organization.) That said, anyone willing to simply go along for the ride with Neeson will have a good time in this fast-moving thriller.
Neeson is excellent, playing a character walking so close to the emotional edge that it's entirely believable the airplane passengers could believe that he's there to hurt rather than help them. He's a man walking an emotional tightrope who could easily be perceived at certain moments as irrational. That said, you don't mess with Neeson's Bill Marks, who's going to do everything in his power to save the plane and its passengers, whether they appreciate him or not.
The film is in many ways very familiar, in the best "movie comfort food" way -- in fact, the technique used to bump off one of the characters is something I saw in an "old" film just a few months ago! I was having trouble at first recalling what the movie was, but thanks to the answer to my query on Twitter, I believe it was the Nick Carter Mystery SKY MURDER
(1940), starring Walter Pidgeon.
While the film mashes up an old-fashioned AND THEN THERE WERE NONE style mystery with the classic airline disaster formula -- all that's missing is an all-star cast of passengers -- at the same time this film, with its reliance on modern technology, could only be made in 2014. Cell phones, texting, and onboard TV are all integral to the plot; the movie found a creative way to blow up the text messages into easy-to-read visuals. A cracked cell phone screen partially obliterating swear words was also a clever device to imply the words without actually showing them.
I especially loved the realistic touch that periodically various passengers are seen shooting pictures and video of what's happening on their smartphones! The ultimate "reveal" of the highjacker is a bit flat, as it's fairly random and there's a lack of foreshadowing or understandable motivation, but the way Bill discovers whodunit is entirely 2014, and that's one of the movie's pleasures.
found the film "wildly entertaining," while Kenneth Turan of the Los Angeles Times
says NON-STOP is "a crisp, efficient thriller that benefits greatly from the intangibles Neeson can be counted on to supply." Other reviews have been more mixed, but Maltin and Turan both felt, as I do, that it's quite an entertaining film despite its flaws. This is one I'm going to be picking up on DVD and adding to my "airplane" collection.
NON-STOP runs 106 minutes. It was directed by Jaume Collet-Serra
and filmed by Flavio Martinez Labiano
Parental Advisory: This film is rated PG-13, which seemed about right to me based on language and a couple of brief disturbing visuals. Otherwise it's a fairly traditional-style airline disaster film.
The trailer is at IMDb
NON-STOP provides a good time and is recommended for anyone who's looking for a fun "popcorn movie."