Critical Mass: Does Liam Neeson's 'Non-Stop' crash or soar?

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Image Credit: Myles Aronowitz

January and February are traditionally regarded as dumping grounds for Hollywood’s lesser movies — the time when studios release the films not good enough for Oscar season and not promising enough for the summer box office. But with a surprising string of winter action hits, beginning with 2009’s Taken, that window might also be termed Neeson Season. “Neeson’s imposing 6’4” frame, haunted eyes, and knack for snapping limbs like celery stalks have elevated throwaways such as Unknown, The Grey, and Taken 2 into something more than the sum of their parts,” writes EW’s Chris Nashawaty. “They may not all be memorable films, but they’d be utterly forgettable without the high-gloss patina of a class that he gives them.” Twenty years after playing Oskar Schindler, the 61-year-old Irish actor is the star of his own B-movie sub-genre, and in Non-Stop, he gets to take the gimmick to new heights.

Neeson plays Bill Marks, a sad air marshal whose transatlantic flight from New York to London is interrupted by a text message threatening to kill a passenger every 20 minutes unless $150 million is wired to an offshore account. Everyone is a suspect, including Marks. Might it be the pretty businesswoman with the window seat, played by Julianne Moore? The macho NYPD cop played by House of Cards‘ Corey Stoll? The other air-marshal on board, played by Anson Mount? Or is it one of the other dozen or so possible suspects? Suspense!

Reuniting Neeson with his Unknown director Jaume Collet-Serra, the film also stars Downton Abbey‘s Michelle Dockery as a skeptical flight attendant, with 12 Years a Slave‘s Lupita Nyong’o also making a before-she-was-famous appearance.

Click below to see what some of the nation’s leading film critics are saying about Non-Stop before buckling in for Neeson’s latest.

Chris Nashawaty (Entertainment Weekly)
“Once again Neeson is a straight-faced secret weapon. With his lion’s roar and can-do fists, he grounds the film’s more preposterous moments and makes them feel excitingly tense. At a certain point either you’ll fasten your seat belt and go with Non-Stop‘s absurd, Looney Tunes logic or you won’t. Against my better judgment, I went with it.”

Todd McCarthy (The Hollywood Reporter)
“A constant low boil of ridiculousness both mocks and sustains Non-Stop, a jerry-rigged terror-on-a-plane thriller with a premise so far-fetched as to create a degree of suspense over how the writers will wriggle out of the knot of their own making.”

Manohla Dargis (New York Times)
Non-Stop works best before its secrets are spilled. Mr. Collet-Serra, who directed Mr. Neeson in Unknown, here sets the sober mood and a fast pace early. But he also throws in some light comedy (some from the fine Ms. Moore as an enigmatic flirt), so that the inherent claustrophobia of the setup doesn’t become too oppressive too quickly.”

Joe Morgenstern (Wall Street Journal)
“[The story] has been cobbled together, often crudely, from pieces of classic predecessors. (Here snippets of Hitchcock, there stretches of Speed, with wings on the bus.) Yet the silliness parades itself in a spirit of cheerful self-awareness, while Liam Neeson fills the thrill quotient impressively…”

Kenneth Turan (Los Angeles Times)
“Obviously, those seeking iron-clad plausibility should look elsewhere, but … [Neeson] throws himself wholeheartedly into the proceedings, prowling the aisles like a vengeful ghost, trying to keep his own demons in check while matching wits with an enemy who always seems to be one step ahead of him.”

Claudia Puig (USA Today)
“Neeson projects a wounded dignity that works well in the part. Did we mention that he stares at couples kissing with a blend of longing and resentment? We learn later why Marks is so emotionally tortured. But how this air marshal hasn’t lost his badge is anybody’s guess.”

Michael O’Sullivan (Washington Post)
“Neeson lends the effort a gravitas that makes it, at least by the standards of gimmicky thrillers, a perfectly entertaining antidote to all the Important Films that have been filling up your pre-Oscar-night to-do list. The gimmick, in this case, is that the movie is an old-fashioned Agatha Christie novel set on an airplane.”

Mick LaSalle (San Francisco Chronicle)
“Neeson … makes the film enjoyable, even if you’re rolling your eyes and laughing in all the wrong places. Maybe they’re the right places. Maybe Non-Stop is a comedy, with Neeson cast as both the comic and his own straight man.”

Richard Roeper (Chicago Sun-Times)
“Julianne Moore is her usual wonderful self as Bill’s seatmate, whose either his best ally or his worst enemy. Michelle Dockery at least has something resembling a character to play, whereas Lupita Nyong’o has about six lines, most of them variations on, “What is HAPPENING?”

Ty Burr (Boston Globe)
Non-Stop comes in for a landing with a bang and a shrug, and Moore in particular looks like her luggage has been grievously mishandled. But she’s used to traveling first class. By now, Neeson knows what it means to fly coach.”

Scott Foundas (Variety)
“A protege of producer Joel Silver, the Spanish-born [director] Collet-Serra … is an able-bodied genre craftsman with a love of old-fashioned plot mechanics and an unusual generosity to actors, who are afforded more quiet, character-revealing moments in his movies than such fare typically allows.”

Non-Stop
Overall Metacritic rating (1-100): 56
Rotten Tomatoes: 57 percent

Rated: PG-13
Length: 107 minutes
Director: Jaume Collet-Serra
Starring Liam Neeson, Julianne Moore, Michelle Dockery, Lupita Nyong’o
Distributor: Universal

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