Friday, February 28, 2014

NON-STOP Is B-Movie Goodness That Furthers Liam Neeson's Legend

NON-STOP Review:

- Will Non-Stop win any Oscars? No. Is Non-Stop all that much different in style or execution from other Liam Neeson action vehicles? No. Is Non-Stop everything you could want in a movie called Non-Stop starring Liam Neeson? Oh hells yeah. So yeah, don't worry that this is a dud like director Jaume Collet-Serra's last Neeson flick, Unknown. While that film suffered from too much somber seriousness, Non-Stop goes full "LIAM NEESONS!" to make a film that would give Key & Peele's fictional film fan characters plenty to geek-out about.

From start to finish, Non-Stop is just a pure adrenaline-rush roller-coaster ride. And it's the perfect film for Neeson, who gets to do all of the things he does best. His character here is Bill Marks (continuing his streak of playing characters with simple-but-awesome-sounding names), an air marshal who dutifully rides commercial airlines to keep an eye out for suspicious activity, even though he doesn't like flying. Marks weariness is heightened by a tragic past - a deceased daughter, and by a drinking problem that does little to drown his sorrows. Suffice it to say, he's the sort of sad-sack loner who you just might suspect could go-off-the-rails. And so it goes. When the flight he's on is hijacked by a mysterious terrorist hiding in plain sight, blame naturally shifts to Marks - with the crew, passengers, his superiors, and a comically panicked news media all rushing to point a finger at the brooding, troubled marshal. But we as the audience are clued in to the fact that Marks is also LIAM NEESONS, pretty much the most noble, do-gooding, doggedly justice-seeking badass there is.

And therein lies the fun of the movie - we know Liam is being set up ... by by whom? And why? And how much ass is going to get kicked when the beleaguered Bill Marks gets his hands on the bastard who dared made us - even momentarily - question the patriotism, mettle, and merit of our beloved hangdog hero?

To its credit, NON-STOP doesn't get bogged down in overly serious melodrama. It plays things with a B-movie wink at the audience, and is ready and willing to go big and over-the-top to deliver maximum "holy $%&#!" factor (see: the climactic gun battle in which Liam Neesons grabs and fires a floating gun, mid-air, while the plane plummets towards the ground). At the same time though, the film is surprisingly and satisfyingly logical in the way that its central mystery unfolds. Many times during the movie, we're sure we've got the mystery terrorist pegged, but each time - right up until the end - the movie delivers a well-placed twist that makes us re-think everything we thought we knew. Unlike Unknown, in which the mystery never came together in a meaningful way, this time the clues, misdirections, and resolutions all work really well. The movie keeps you guessing, but it also doesn't cheat - a rare thing for this type of film.

Neeson is at his bellowy best here. This is him in semi-cartoon character mode, so don't expect a more nuanced, deep performance as we got in films like The Grey. This is the Neeson from Taken, oddly ambiguous accent and all (his character is said to be Irish-born, but whatever). Still, even in these broader action-hero roles, Neeson is so good because there is that sadness and hint of tragedy in his eyes - which then morphs into righteous anger when he's been targeted. He's older, sure, but that only means that he goes about his missions of vengeance with lion-like paternal instinct. He doesn't kick ass because he can, but dammit all, because he must.

Julianne Moore is the other lead here, and she's pretty good as a passenger who befriends Neeson, but who may or may not secretly have an agenda. Moore plays the part just right, so we're never quite sure if she can be trusted. But honestly, what makes the mystery here work so well is that, like the best 80's action movies, NON-STOP doesn't necessarily give us a ton of info about each key character on the plane, but it gives us some defining characteristics - just enough so that the film establishes a colorful gallery of potential rogues that we can actively place suspicion. Interestingly, one of those characters is played by rising star Lupita Nyong'o. The role is pretty small, but hey, there are signs of the talent that we saw in 12 Years a Slave, which I'm sure we'll see in full view again soon.

Are there moments where NON-STOP gets a little too cheesetastic for it's own good? Sure. In particular, the way that the passengers and others begin to turn against Neeson, despite his best intentions, can feel a bit contrived (though it all leads to one hell of a "win back their trust" speech from Neeson). But mostly, the movie is in on the joke. When a character asks Liam Neeson how he knows his far-fetched plan to keep a bomb from destroying the airplane will work, and Neeson brazenly replies (paraphrasing) that there's now way of knowing, as such a plan has never been attempted in recorded history - the movie practically pauses to allow for semi-ironic laughter. And that's cool. The movie is not Taken levels of awesome by any means, but for what it is, it's pretty spot-on. Put it this way, this one will only further the legends of LIAM NEESONS' legendary awesomeness.

My Grade: B+

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