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06 Mar 2014

Implausible Fun: 'Non-Stop' Is the Modern-Day Equivalent of a Silly but Entertaining 1970s Disaster Flick

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Julianne Moore and Liam Neeson in Non-Stop. Julianne Moore and Liam Neeson in Non-Stop.

Liam Neeson is again a thinking-older-man action hero in Non-Stop—which is essentially Taken on a plane. This time, though, it’s an airplane being kidnapped as opposed to an overacting, obviously-not-a-teenager Maggie Grace being kidnapped.

While the Taken movies sort of stink, I enjoyed Non-Stop. It’s one of those trashy movies that you can’t help but like because all of its implausibility and overwrought performances combine into something strangely entertaining. There’s nothing wrong with well-done trash cinema.

We first see Nelson’s Bill Marks drinking an alcoholic beverage in an airport parking lot before he boards a plane. The opening passages slowly reveal what we already know from every commercial for this movie: Bill is an air marshal, and his plane … IS GOING TO BE TAKEN!

The twist: The hijacker, through text communications and various manipulations, will make it look like Bill is the one hijacking the plane.

The film has your basic assortment of terrorist suspects, from the seemingly sweet female seat neighbor (Julianne Moore, classing the place up) to the mysterious fellow (Scoot McNairy) who asks for a light before Bill boards the plane. There’s also a Muslim doctor, a grouchy New York cop, a computer programmer, suspicious flight attendants and so on. You get a gold star if you can figure out who is bad before the big reveal.

One twist after another hits; the movie goes beyond ridiculous and into some forgivable zone where you get the feeling it’s all being done with a big wink at the audience. The folks making this movie must’ve been aware that their thriller is completely nuts.

This is the second time Neeson has teamed up with director Jaume Collet-Serra, who helmed the also-ridiculous-but-far-less-fun Neeson vehicle Unknown, and the creepy Orphan. As he did with Orphan, Collet-Serra does a decent job keeping his audience off-balance when it comes to the mystery in Non-Stop.

The film has an overall feel of a ’70’s disaster flick, like Airport or, better yet, Airport ’77. (That would be the cinematic piece of awesomeness that saw a 747 sink in the ocean, with the plane staying intact and the survivors searching for options to reach the surface—eventually opting for really big balloons!)

There was a missed opportunity here: The producers should’ve thrown in a couple of disaster-film vets to augment the cheese factor. How much more fun could this have been with, say, Robert Hays (Airplane!), Robert Wagner (The Towering Inferno) and Richard Roundtree (Earthquake) occupying some seats? That would’ve been a sweet, daring way to acknowledge this film’s goofiness and obvious obligations to 1970s disaster epics.

Non-Stop is one of those movies that you will stop to watch if you are flipping through channels a few years from now. It won’t win any awards for smarts, but it will keep you riveted.

Unfortunately, there are plans for Taken 3—but only time will tell whether Bill Marks gets another air adventure. Let’s hope he does.

Non-Stop is now playing at theaters across the valley.

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