The “Liam Neeson Punching People” genre has become a fan favourite since its inception in 2008, with such genre entrants as Liam Neeson Punches Kidnappers in Europe, Liam Neeson Forgets Who He Is and Punches Assassins in Berlin, Liam Neeson Punches Wolves in Antarctica and Liam Neeson Punches Kidnappers in Europe Again. Spanish born Jaume Collet-Serra directed the second entry on that list – more commonly known as Unknown – and he’s teaming up with Neeson once again for Non-Stop aka Liam Neeson Gets Drunk and Punches People On a Plane.
Said people being the soon to be regretful villain/villains on a flight from New York to London, who through text messages on the plane’s secure network threatens to kill a fellow passenger every 20 minutes unless $150 million dollars is wired into a specific bank account. The regret on their part stems from the fact that this just so happens to be the flight on which Neeson’s Air Marshall Bill Marks finds himself today. A surly, grieving, alcoholic and failed cop with the communication skills of a grizzly bear with a dental emergency, Marks is not the type of person you would easily consider a hero. Which unfortunately for him (along with some clever planning on the part of the would-be criminal mastermind) results in Marks being mistaken for a hijacker by the passengers and authorities, as he rough-handedly goes about trying to figure out not just who is behind this plot, but also just how anybody can expect to kill a passenger on a crowded plane and get away with it.
The basic mystery behind Non-Stop‘s premise is an engaging one, as we get introduced to a handful of likely suspects – including Julianne Moore’s suspiciously friendly Jen Summers – and some very mysteriously killed victims. As the body count starts to ratchet up, so does the film’s tension, and Collet-Sera does a great job of maintaining that bristling suspense despite the fact that the film’s script constantly threatens to pull you out of the experience by beating you over the head with stereotypical characters (a real waste considering some of the acting talent in this film), unashamed emotional blackmailing (yes, it involves a cute little girl), unnecessary action movie tropes (Marks is an Air Marshall afraid of flying) and plot holes big enough to fly a Boeing 777 through. Strangely, one of these plot holes is actually a very literal one – as in a hole referenced in the plot.
But despite all of that, plus a lame duck third act reveal that explosively decompresses all the logic right out the window, Non-Stop is still the type of low-commitment thrill ride that most audiences can appreciate for its pure entertainment value. I wouldn’t go so far as to call it brainless entertainment, as for the most of the early portions of the film, your grey squishy bits are actively engaged in solving this airborne locked room mystery, as clues and red herrings are seemingly found behind every seat. Right alongside people for Liam Neeson to punch. Of course. One such punching (and kicking) impressively takes place in the claustrophobic confines of an aeroplane toilet, giving Collet-Serra one of several chances to even show that he has some pretty decent action chops to go with those suspense ones.
With it’s occasionally lazy scripting and ultimately silly resolution, most of Non-Stop‘s whodunit entertainment value can contributed to Collet-Serra’s taut direction, the bits of successful misdirection pulled off by the supporting cast (which includes recent Oscar winner Lupita Nyong’o in a role that’s barely more than a Grace Jones haircut and a nervous expression) and of course to Neeson, who apparently still hasn’t got the memo that it’s not a prerequisite for action heroes to actually act. This, and all other entrants in the Liam Neeson Punching People genre, is by no means the type of award winning work that Neeson did back in Schindler’s List, but what he does is provide a solid central core, filled with unexpected gravitas, which audiences can anchor on to. His Marks is all gravelly barked orders and drowned sorrows, fleshed out just enough to not be a cardboard cutout, but not so much that you would be able to easily differentiate between this and all his other half dozen action hero characters in a lineup.
And you know what? That’s okay. This late in his career, Neeson has discovered a particular set of skills that allows him to churn out out these types of thrilling and entertaining, but ultimately forgettable fare that’s perfect for when you just need to kick back, fold up your tray table and watch somebody being punched and shouted at by an angry Irishman while you try to figure out why said punching and shouting is taking place. Just don’t expect anything more than that from this harmlessly fun but bumpy ride.
Last Updated: April 4, 2014