Movie: Non-Stop; Director: Jaume Collet-Serra; Studio: Universal Pictures; Rating: PG-13; My finding: 3 out of 5 stars.
While there are many problems in "Non-Stop" that may mar the film for more discerning audiences who can't allow themselves to fully suspend their disbelief, all in all it is a thoroughly entertaining chamber action movie.
Liam Neeson was critically lauded for many of his earlier performances, including the lead in 1993's "Schindler's List," 1995's "Rob Roy," 1996's "Michael Collins" and through the early millennial years with outings like 2002's "Gangs of New York" and 2004's "Kinsey." Recently though, he has made a complete turnaround from that young dramatic lead into the now 61-year-old star of higher-minded action films.
It's not a cut-and-dried transition. It may have begun with 1999's "Star Wars: Episode 1 - The Phantom Menace," but now he is most well known for the "Taken" series and similar efforts like 2012's "The Grey."
And there's nothing wrong with that, because the aging star has phenomenal box office returns.
"Non-Stop," though, takes away the international field to be covered and puts the huge, 6-foot, 4-inch Northern Irish actor in the close quarters of a jumbo trans-Atlantic airliner. He plays Bill Marks, a U.S. Federal Air Marshal with a major drinking problem and a painful past.
He tells a woman he's seated next to (played by Julianne Moore) that he flies "All the time, actually," when she is concerned with her nervousness upon takeoff, as he grips the armrests and wraps a blue ribbon, a token of good luck, around his fist.
He seems tired and withdrawn and desperately needing a drink, despite the fact that the flight attendants only provide him with non-alcoholic beverages due to his job.
Marks wakes up, though, when he receives a text message on his cellphone, which is connected to a private, federally protected airline network used only for conducting his Marshal duties.
The text message conversation makes it clear that someone will kill a person on the airline every 20 minutes until $150 million is deposited into a bank account.
It seems unfeasible, I mean, as Moore's character points out, the thing to enjoy about international flights is that you can sit alone in your seat for hours where nobody can bother you or get to you.
That claustrophobic nature is further enhanced by the great camera work on display here. The focus on many of the shots, as though seen through alcoholic, tired eyes, is very narrow. Just a
face here, a cell phone there, with everything out of the immediate attention of the character drastically out of focus. Depth of field work has rarely been this well used in recent cinema, especially in the action variety.
To even further the claustrophobic, alcoholic discomfort, though, is the somewhat antiseptic feelings conveyed by the use of blue and other cool colors. Warm colors make a person feel at home and comfortable, but something is oddly alien and prohibitive when cast in blues and greens.
All that haze, though, has to be cut through, though, when it turns out the texts are no idle threat as the first victim dies.
The directors and screenwriters work very well at making nearly everyone seem suspect. With nobody to trust, the odds are upped for Marks to locate the perpetrator when news media picks up the story and casts Marks as the possible culprit, which turns the already scared passengers into hostiles.
"Non-Stop" is in many ways a psychological action thriller. Marks is a quintessential anti-hero who doesn't really care anymore about his own life and all the other characters, despite very little development, make the whole thing feel like a game of "Clue" with a deathly important and limited time frame. The problem, though, is the implausibility of what actually is occurring.
It's preposterous, this movie and plot, but also great fun.
(Flint McColgan is a staff writer for The Minot Daily News. His movie reviews appear in Thursday's Arts &?Entertainment section.)