If you have to watch Non-Stop, you should watch it in a cinema in Ireland so that you can listen to the whole audience break its heart laughing two thirds of the way through as a frantic talking head on American TV gibbers that no-one knows anything about Liam Neeson’s character. “He’s from Northern Ireland! He could be in the IRA!” Yeah, right.
Until Steve Buscemi takes over from Bruce Willis in Die Hard 6: Escape from Elba, Liam Neeson’s got an unshakeable lock on the title of most unexpected action movie hero EVAR. It all seems inevitable now that we’ve had time to get used to that lanky frame and craggy face contemplating the need for some beatdowns, but for the older generation Neeson was a brooding soulful presence, even in hopped up travesties like Michael Collins, rather than someone growling out threats before killing everything in a ten block radius.
Non-Stop is one of those movies where you spend your time thinking about other movies set on aeroplanes and ranking it against them. There’s something irresistible about putting a movie on a plane; right there and then you’ve got your unities of time place and action nailed; everyone’s stuck in the same tube and it all has to happen in the space of a few hours because we all know that aeroplanes can’t stay up there all day. Unfortunately, it seems to be nearly impossible to squeeze even a button of sense onto the plane to join the cast. Aeroplane movies never make any sense. The good ones have the sense not to try, although Snakes on a Plane demonstrated that you can take not trying too far.
Non-Stop has an impressively bonkers set up; Bill Marks, drunk, washed-up air marshall has to find the mysterious passenger who’s threatened to kill someone on the plane every 20 minutes unless he gets paid bin loads of money. Who is the villain? Who can he trust? Can he really trust the people he thinks he can trust? Which of all these people we vaguely recognise from TV shows could possibly be the bad guy, and which of them just looks like the bad guy? Is Bill Marks the bad guy? Everything’s pointing to it. So much everything that of course he can’t be the bad guy (plus, it’s Liam Neeson, and he’s kind to small children!). Unless that’s what we’re supposed to think….
It all falls apart in the usual way in the last act, as aeroplane movies always do. It’s very like Flightplan in its insistence on the notion that there’s a main character who thinks they’re at the centre of a complicated plot but can’t get anyone to believe them. It’s a bit like Redeye in its reliance on a menacing and crazy Irish person who’s way too good of an actor for the role. It’s a bit like Downton Abbey in its reliance on Lady Mary to explain the plot to everyone else.
Here’s a top tip for the next time you’re stuck in a aeroplane with a bomb and you have half an hour to do something with the bomb. Plastic explosive can be cut quite easily with even airline cutlery. And left to itself, it’s harmless. If your cunning plan to deal with the otherwise undefusable bomb is based on the idea of covering it with luggage to dampen the blast, consider just trimming off as much plastic as you can. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone try this, but it’s easily less nuts than what Liam Neeson actually tries...