Competing for the record number of red herrings in a single motion picture, Non-Stop (2013) initially teases ninety minutes of high-concept fun, but quickly gets bogged down in a mire of tired clichés, laboured characters and distracting plot-holes. A huge waste of star Liam Neeson, Jaume Collet-Serra’s airborne whodunit is reminiscent of the kind of disposable cinematic fodder so often churned out during the late-nineties. Neeson plays Bill Marks, an ex-cop turned ostracised US Federal Air Marshal who is first introduced sat in his car, sloshing whisky into a coffee cup and delicately stroking the photo of his late daughter (he may as well be holding up a placard inscribed with ‘tortured hero’).
Taking a Boeing 767 flight from New York to London, he strikes up a conversation with neurotic fellow traveller (Julianne Moore – pay cheque visibly dangling from her hand luggage) but before the two can better acquaint themselves, Marks receives a mysterious and menacing text message from another member of the flight. He (or she) states that unless $150 million is transferred into a specific bank account, someone on the trip will be murdered every twenty minutes. It’s an unabashedly nutty and pulpy premise, and there is some fun to be had playing the guessing game with the beleaguered Marks’ early attempts at whittling down the suspects. Things get progressively dumber, however, and as the characters begin to act in increasingly irrational and nonsensical ways, designed solely to service the plot.
All the while, Collet-Serra’s film manages to keep a straight face, when it should be letting out the occasion wink or two. A vague grab at post-911 paranoia fails to offer any kind of weight, and it’s up to a largely wasted cast – which includes Downton Abbey star Michelle Dockery and Scoot McNairy – to help fill in the blanks. Recent Academy Award winner Lupita Nyong’o (12 Years a Slave) is given nothing to work with here, and the main perpetrator can be spotted a mile off (a word of advice to any budding filmmakers: alarm bells may ring with an audience when you cast an accomplished character actor in a ‘minor’ role). Ultimately, Non-Stop is a harmless B-picture and may go down much easier with several beers and a takeaway on a Saturday night, but given the talent involved it could have been so much better.