Is there a form of storytelling that hates your guts? Why, yes there is! It’s called allegory and it loathes you right down to your swollen, McGriddles-soaked arteries. Allegory is condescending. It doesn’t seem to realize that you already know that subjects like racism are a bad thing, so it beats its obvious message into your head in the most patronizing way possible. Allegory is also very passive-aggressive; it never really comes out and says what it really wants to say. It merely hides its message behind something far more attractive and interesting, which is why it’s always annoying when you watch a movie or read a novel about, oh, let’s say, enormous killer robots and realize a quarter of the way through that the enormous killer robots are symbolizing the NRA or Vietnam or sales tax or whatever. It’s infuriating.
But as much as I hate the method of allegory, I still managed to really like “Non-Stop.” Sure, it’s yet another movie that needlessly reminds us that, “Life sure has changed since the events of 9/11,” but it also cloaks this painfully obvious message in a fun, cheesy storyline that’s part “Airport” and part “Murder on the Orient Express.” Every time “Non-Stop” tries to say something “profound” about the Iraq War or our current surveillance state, you’re too distracted by Liam Neeson as he drunkenly waves a handgun around and showers people’s faces with rage-induced spittle to actually notice.
In “Non-Stop,” Neeson plays a broken-down laughingstock of a U.S. air marshal who, during the opening moments of the film, can be found slumped over his steering wheel, stirring an Irish coffee with a disposable razor. It’s a fitfully sad introduction to a fitfully sad character, but it also serves as something of a high point, because as “Non-Stop” progresses, Neeson just keeps growing sadder and more pathetic.
While on board a transatlantic flight, Neeson receives a series of text messages that threaten to kill a passenger every 20 minutes unless $150 million dollars is wired into an offshore bank account. Of course, the moment Neeson catches wind of the threat, he needlessly worries the crew and accidentally murders a fellow air marshal. From there, Neeson starts to resemble the terrorist he’s supposed to protect everybody from as he loudly rambles on about bombs and violently frog-marches passengers around the plane. But then again, maybe it’s more than just a mere resemblance. Could Neeson actually be the real terrorist? That off-shore bank account happens to be in Neeson’s name. Is he suffering through a severe psychotic break or is he merely just a patsy in some bigger, highly convoluted game?
Directed by Jaume Collet-Serra (who is best known for giving us “Orphan,” that movie where an Eastern European dwarf poses as a child and murders people), “Non-Stop” is just as stupid as you would think it would be. However, that stupidity is part of its charm. Resembling an old school disaster movie, “Non-Stop” is filled with broadly drawn characters, ridiculous action set-pieces (enjoy the scene where a character is shot in the head in zero gravity) and strong performances from its slumming A-list cast (in addition to Neeson, Julianne Moore, Michelle Dockery, and Lupita Nyong’o also eagerly collect paychecks). Too bad the film never fully embraces its stupidity.
But even though “Non-Stop’s” pretensions can be frustrating, just remember that every time 9/11 imagery is self-importantly invoked, a shot of Neeson yelling at a man to death is just around the corner.
Rating: W W W