Non-Stop (Universal Pictures)
“It wasn’t Colonel Mustard…”
(Universal Pictures)

Non-Stop is so close to being an elite popcorn thriller that, should it magically receive a trip to the editing room, a second round with a tightened cut would be well worth the effort.  The version currently populating theaters is still an exciting adventure, but one just dumb enough to feel like a missed opportunity for action greatness.

Was it Amber Waves with glasses? (Universal Pictures)
“Was it new LensCrafters spokeswoman Amber Waves?”
(Universal Pictures)

Back with his Unknown director Jaume Collet-Serra, Liam Neeson plays Bill Marks, a U.S. federal air marshal tasked with a flight to London. In the vein of classic disaster films, this one front loads Bill’s personal problems (alcoholism, daughter issues, etc.) and introductions of his key fellow passengers, practically all of whom he encounters prior to reaching their shared gate.

Was it the ghost of Peter Russo? (Universal Pictures)
“Was it the ghost of Peter Russo?”
(Universal Pictures)

Through these often humorous encounters specific to the world of travel, Non-Stop expertly builds a web of suspense that becomes downright suffocating when the true conflict arises.  Once in the air, Bill begins receiving text messages on his secure network demanding $150 million wired to an account with the threat of someone on the plane dying every 20 minutes if he doesn’t cooperate.

Was it Lady Mary Crawley at a Star Trek convention? (Universal Pictures)
“Was it Lady Mary Crawley at a Star Trek convention?”
(Universal Pictures)

Suddenly, everyone is a suspect and potential conspiracies arise with each conversation between characters or off-kilter glance.  Could it be Jen (Julianne Moore), who mysteriously asked to sit next to Bill?  What about the guy with glasses (Scoot McNairy) who unsuccessfully attempted to strike up a curbside conversation with Bill or the dude with the shaved head whose roving gaze includes a continual scowl (Corey Stoll)?  Don’t write off the airline employees either, especially the flight attendant (Michelle Dockery) and co-pilot (Jason Butler Harner) with eyes for one another.

Was it A Boy Named Scoot? (Universal Pictures)
“Was it A Boy Named Scoot?”
(Universal Pictures)

Against such a rich set-up, it’s a shame that once Bill begins to act, Non-Stop starts to spiral out of control.  In portraying this complex situation, too much information is exchanged with perhaps too many players involved for Collet-Serra to successfully juggle.  Particularly problematic is that the events and especially what’s being said to Bill over the phone by ground contact Agent Marenick (Shea Whigham) don’t always compute with how Bill processes them.  On several occasions Marenick makes statements in regard to damning public and personal perception of Bill’s actions that would give most people pause, yet Bill keeps on, diluting the once riveting material.

"I'll keep blasting away until I find out!" (Universal Pictures)
“I’ll keep blasting away until I find out!”
(Universal Pictures)

The addition of certain final act complications restore the balance just enough, aided by some heart-pounding action, most of which Collet-Serra saves for the end.  Still, the film could do without its moronic explanation behind the terror plot, though even here Non-Stop manages to mock its own silly content.  In cases like this one, there’s just enough self-awareness afoot to elevate the writing above the bulk of its peers.  For mindless entertainment, that’s more than sufficient.

Grade: B-

Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of action and violence, some language, sensuality and drug references.

Non-Stop is currently playing at the Carolina Cinemas on Hendersonville Rd.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jiHDJ19A3dk]

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