Sunday, March 2, 2014

The Cinema File #322: "Non-Stop" Review

As someone who likes Sam Raimi's Dark Man probably more than it deserves, I'm not quite as surprised as most people are by Liam Neeson's recent action hero turn relatively late in his career. My brother once said to me in relation to either The Grey or Taken 2 that any movie where Liam Neeson succeeds by kicking things has already met his standard for greatness, and while I no longer trust his judgement regarding movies after his effusive love for The Hangover III came to light, I find it hard to assail his logic on this point. Bringing his bad ass action swagger to an airplane, where good action movies go to die, Neeson is practically daring his audience to re-evaluate their love for his new niche, but surprisingly, his new film Non-Stop largely delivers, at least for most of the flight.

Here Neeson plays the same guy he plays in all these movies, a character I like to call Jack Danger, which catches your ear as strangely American sounding before kicking you in the face for thinking too hard. This time around, Jack is in the air, a Federal Air Marshall in fact, all of his character development taken care of in one opening scene without dialogue, because words are for pussies, as he caresses a picture of his daughter with one hand and clutches a bottle of scotch with the other. While on board a routine flight to London, he receives a series of texts on his secure blackberry threatening to kill a passenger every twenty minutes unless a large sum of money is transferred into a bank account, prompting him to take matters in his own hands, even if it means he becomes the prime suspect when things invariably go south.

In any other script, the question of how anyone could possibly single out individual passengers and murder them on a cramped commercial airplane might have been a reason to re-think the concept entirely, possibly by involving wolves somehow, but Non-Stop manages to maintain this tension longer than you might think possible. The intricacy with which the kills are performed and how they are threaded into a larger scheme to frame Jack for the crimes is that sort of crafty, novel twist storytelling that you know isn't going to pay off, but its fun enough to watch unfold that you may find yourself not caring. The point is to watch this man's life spiral out of control as his need to keep the threat a secret turns everyone against him, and even as the plot unravels, making less and less sense along the way, its suspenseful enough to trick you into ignoring that, at least until the final reveal.

I won't spoil it, if only because its so stupid that its almost worth the surprise, but once you discover who the culprit is and why they decided to hijack a plane, to say the explanation strains credulity is an understatement. The logic is the kind you only ever see in silly action movies, usually of the early 90's Michael Bay variety that brought us psychotic generals who want to destroy cities to call attention to the mistreatment of veterans. More importantly, it relies on exactly what you would think a story about a hijacked plane would reference in post 9/11 American in a way that boldly assumes we are far enough away from that tragedy to exploit it for quick and dirty movie bad guy contrivances. I'm not sure if it rises to the level of being outright offensive or if the trite way its employed makes it more or less offensive in practice.

Even so, its a hell of a ride getting there, and if you're still hoping not to be disappointed by the final twist after how convoluted the set up for it was, you're probably not the kind of person who would set foot in a theater to see a movie like Non-Stop anyway. This isn't the kind of movie that hinges on logic and reason, so much as ass kicking and explosions, and we get plenty of both, along with a generally effective tone of constant, ever present danger that locks you in quickly and never lets go long enough for you to pick apart the finer details. If there's a standard for action movies on a plane, it should be whether or not they manage to keep you on the edge of your seat even during the perilous landing sequence you know had to be coming at some point, and this film met that standard and then some.

SIDE NOTE: Two more things. Just quibbles, mind you, nothing so egregious as to affect my opinion of the film, but I just wanted to highlight two elements of this movie that they need to stop doing in movies as a whole. One: Can we please stop including the obligatory Muslim-y looking guy Red Herring in all of our thrillers where terrorism is a plot point? We know he's not going to be the guy, so why insult us? Also a great deal of this movie relies on text messaging, which is displayed in that Sherlock raised style like a giant hologram over the phone, and you know what? I don't need that either. Just show the dame screen on the phone. Unless its the future and the words are actually screaming out of it, the motif has been done to death. Its the next iteration of those quasi futuristic Minority Report style touch screen holograms, which also need to go away. Okay, sorry, off my soap box now.

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