Planes are bloody terrifying; great 200-ton coke cans tossed up into the sky and expected to somehow not come crashing back down again, turning all the poor saps aboard into immolated ant-stains in the process.
Still, flying does have its uses. Acquisition of air miles for one. Getting places for another. And thirdly, as setting for many a disaster-thriller of golden days gone by. From Airport ’77 to Concorde Affaire ’79, from Die Hard 2 to Passenger 57, planes have long been a reliable wellspring of nerve-jangling big screen excitement (not to mention numeral-tastic film titles).
Non-Stop is the latest movie to look skywards in search of its heart-stopping scenario. It also represents a reunion for leading man Liam Neeson, director Jaume Collet-Serra and producer Joel Silver following their 2011 collaboration on passable Euro action-mystery Unknown. This time round, Neeson plays Bill Marks, a man who (like the star’s character in Unknown) finds himself facing a seemingly insoluble conundrum.
Marks is a fagged-out, washed-up walking fatigue of a human being. He pours whisky into his morning coffee and wears the same perpetual expression of grave disappointment so often spotted on the faces of Manchester United supporters this season. He also just happens to be a US air marshal, responsible for protecting airline passengers from psycho whack-jobs.
So, sure enough, on his latest flight, going non-stop (natch) from New York to London, he starts receiving text messages on his marshal’s secure network, telling him that a passenger will be murdered every 20 minutes unless he arranges for $150million to be transferred into an account in Marks’ own name.
And that, friends, is about the size of it, with Neeson spending nearly the entire movie charging up and down the plane’s aisles trying to figure out who the killer is, how they’re doing what they’re doing right under his nose, and why they’re so dead-set on making him look like he’s the culprit.
Oh, and barking at just about everyone; he’s so relentlessly antsy and cranky throughout, you half-expect him to call the in-flight safety card a massive twat-bag.
To add a teasing little twist to this airborne cocktail of the Neeson action-man’s redemptive quest and er, not much else besides, Collet-Serra elects to keep the fires of ambiguity burning for as long as possible as to whether Marks may indeed be mad or just bad, and somehow architect of his own travails.
The amiably chaotic shenanigans play best in the film’s first half, when Non-Stop most keenly embraces the ridiculousness of its own high concept setup. Accordingly, we’re treated to a tense early sequence which consists almost solely of Neeson aggressively texting, and Collet-Serra also delivers a full-on fist-fight in that most maligned of confined spaces, the economy class toilet.
The movie was shot on a specially-constructed plane set, mapped to the requirements of the director’s camera choreography, and sure enough, the shooting is restless and kinetic, working overtime alongside John Ottman’s relentlessly ticking score to try and keep the proceedings teetering on a razor’s edge.
The tension, however, isn’t sustained throughout. The movie might aspire to Hitchcock; the level it truly achieves could more honestly be characterised as ballcock – and that’s not just because so many of the scenes involve visiting the plane’s bogs.
But Non-Stop does score in terms of its supporting cast. Just like in Unknown, where the piffle of a script was imbued with a barely-deserved dignity by the likes of Aidan Quinn, Frank Langella and Bruno Ganz, so here the ever-entertaining Neeson finds himself sharing cabin space with Julianne Moore, Linus Roache, Corey Stoll, Scoot McNairy and the voice of Shea Whigham, all of whom bring credibility and charisma to characters that aspire to the level of clichés.
Hell, Collet-Serra even has Lupita Nyong’o amongst his company of players – the 12 Years a Slave Oscar-nominee playing a flight attendant – and he elects to barely use her.
Non-Stop is essentially a one-way ticket. You’re hanging on for the central mystery to be revealed and that’s all. And even with that single-use hook keeping you dangling, the movie still drags on longer than is ideal. Movies set aboard flights are like actual flights in that respect: the shorter the better.
Non-Stop is released in the UK on 28 February