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MOVIES: Non-Stop – A surprisingly intelligent and entertaining ride – Review

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The “Liam Neeson: Action Hero!” train doesn’t seem to be slowing down anytime soon. Since Taken – his debut as an ass-kicking name taker – Neeson hasn’t had the most impressive string of starring roles (except his excellent work in The Lego Movie). In a shocking twist, though, his losing streak has been broken with Non-Stop, a movie that had very little promise but which, thanks to a very intelligent script, ends up being quite clever and a lot of fun.

Neeson plays Bill Marks, a veteran U.S. Air Marshall whose personal life has begun affecting his performance as a protector of the skies. On a transatlantic flight to London, Bill begins receiving anonymous text messages from someone claiming he or she will start killing passengers unless $150 million is transferred to a bank account. The person is one of the 150 passengers on the flight and Bill must figure out who he or she is before someone is killed.

But who can he trust? The slightly neurotic woman who insists on sitting next to him (Julianne Moore)? The boisterous loudmouth in Coach (Corey Stoll)? The quiet Muslim man sitting by himself (Omar Metwally)? What about the crew? Anyone could be the person responsible, but Bill has no way of knowing who it is. He begins investigating the passengers and eliminating potential threats, hoping to uncover the anonymous messenger. Despite years of experience and training, Bill is faced with a threat he may not be able to handle.

The movie works so well because of the excellent script from John W. Richardson, Christopher Roach and Ryan Engle. Most Hollywood action/suspense films in recent years are unoriginal messes with characters whose blandness is matched only by the actors’ poor performances. The script for Non-Stop, though, is very smart and unfolds with a crisp confidence not usually seen in this genre. The basic concept seems ludicrous and the setting has been done to death (Passenger 57, Air Force One, Red Eye, Flightplan), but Non-Stop surprises the audience by being more concerned with the legitimacy of the plot than the spectacle of the action. The way the anonymous messenger messes with Bill is quite ingenious, bringing both his sanity and trustworthiness into question. Bill is essentially fighting alone and his desperate actions reflect this. Director Jaume Collett-Serra (the hack behind Orphan and Unknown) thankfully stays out of the way and lets the script work its magic.

Also making the movie so enjoyable is the strong cast, especially Neeson and Moore who should star together in at least one movie a year. Neither is a natural fit for an action/thriller which makes them so interesting to watch. Their gravitas as respected, proven actors lends the movie weight it wouldn’t otherwise possess. Neeson wears Bill’s fragile mental and emotional health on his haggard face, showing us he is one double scotch away from completing breaking down. Moore’s character, Jen, is poorly drawn, but thanks to Moore’s natural talents and charisma, we can overlook Jen’s underdeveloped personality. The rest of the cast is terrific as well and all play their parts as various red herrings wonderfully.

Non-Stop is entertaining, suspenseful and full of well-executed misdirection. This is the type of movie Neeson should be signing on for, not more Taken sequels.

Grade: B+
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