I can almost guarantee that if I went back for a second viewing of the new Liam Neeson air marshall thriller NON-STOP, I'd spend a lot of its running time saying, "How the hell did the bad guys find out X about Neeson?" And that's for the plain and simple reason that the villains in this film seem to have the uncanny ability to see through luggage, doors and minds and be able to know exactly what every single person on this New York City-to-London plane is going to do next, especially US Air Marshall Bill Marks (Neeson). And that's just the jumping off point to a whole slew of questionable plausibility issues the film has. But if you can set those aside, and just assume that none of these leaps of faith is really that logical, you might have a blast watching this movie.
We learn or suspect fairly early on that Marks is a troubled man. We hear his side of a phone conversation at the beginning of the film in which he is clearly trying to get out of flying that particular day. He's a near-broken man who orders a stiff drink when he takes his first-class seat; the flight attendant (who clearly knows him) brings him a bottle of water instead. We suspect he's suffered a loss of some sort, coupled with alcoholic tendencies (to what degree, we don't know immediately), and to put him on a long flight charged with protecting the passengers seems like a bad idea. In many ways, he's playing the same character he did in THE GREY, minus the wolf punching.
A few hours into the flight, Marks begins to receive a series of texts on his private phone from someone claiming to be on the plane, someone who says a person on the plane will die every 20 minutes until $150 million is deposited into a secret bank account. Not knowing initially if the threat is real, he consults the crew and tries to figure out who on the plane is sending the text without upsetting the passengers. Sure enough, someone does die after that first 20 minutes, but in a truly unexpected way (under the first of many nearly impossible circumstances), and the adventure begins. The added bonus of Marks' dilemma is that whoever has set these death deadlines has also framed him to look like a desperate man turned to hijacking and ready to crash the plane into a civilian target, presumably in London.
Simply put, Neeson has become the guy who plays rugged and desperate better than just about any actor in his class or generation doing action films. And the way he commands every scene and makes the impossible seem possible (or at least slightly less impossible) is a trait that makes it likely that we'll put aside certain questionable facts and just go with the flow at 40,000 feet. The air at that height is about as thin as this film's premise, but Neeson drives it home, no questions asked.
Helping and hindering him—depending on the moment—is a cast of great supporting players, including Julianne Moore as Marks' seatmate and strongest supporter even when he appeears at his most guilty; "Downton Abbey's" Michelle Dockery and TWELVE YEARS A SLAVE Oscar-nominee Lupita Nyong'o as a pair of flight attendants; the great Corey Stoll as a passenger who also happens to be a New York City cop, who might be the closest thing to a voice of reason on this flight; and Monsters star Scoot McNairy as the plane's most likely suspect, who naturally means he shouldn't be. Director Jaume Collet-Serra (the HOUSE OF WAX remake, ORPHAN and UNKNOWN, which also starred Neeson) does a credible job letting us slowly get to know certain passengers, allowing us to suspect a half dozen of them as the perpetrator as things progress.
To get into specifics about the plot once the deaths start seems counterproductive. It's way to complicated, and to do so would spoil too many surprises, countless twists and confusing turns. But without Neeson as the strong central force driving this pretzel-shaped beast, the whole film falls apart into a sloppy mess, and all leaps of faith end like a skydive without a parachute.
It wouldn't be fair to call it a big, dumb movie, because a certain amount of thinking clearly went into its conception and execution. But the film might also be an example of what happens to your brain on drugs—some of you might consider that a good thing. It's a toss-up whether I'd recommend this or not. I'll admit, I was utterly entertained by NON-STOP, sometimes even for the reason the filmmakers intended, but often times not. It's completely within the realm of possibility that you could really non-ironically enjoy watching NON-STOP and all that it represents. If you have half a brain in your head, you probably know whether you'll dig this clown car of a thriller or not. So my advice is, use the other half of that brain.