Friday, February 28, 2014


Murder mysteries are something of a misguided film genre.  The fun does not really come from the final reveal and clever twist, but rather the guessing game of "oh, maybe it was the butler", "maybe it was Colonel Mustard", "maybe it was actually Professor Hyde White".  Once you actually do learn the truth of what is going on, unfortunately, either it will be a massive twist too ridiculous to be treated with anything other than scorn*, or a huge disappointment.  "That's it?  It was just that guy?"  I feel like murder mysteries honestly should not even be used on film**, they're much better served to some kind of interactive medium.  Something where the viewer or reader can really watch closely, follow the clues, take notes, and come up with the answer themselves.  In film, you're not supposed to actually follow any clues, you simply watch - hopefully with your suspension of disbelief at full power - while the plot twists itself into a pretzel.  The whole thing is a barrel full of red herrings, then at the end you have to be shocked, because it wasn't the maid or Colonel Mustard or Professor Hyde White, it was actually the dog.  Didn't see that coming, did you?

"Non-Stop" is not the clever sort of murder mystery.  It is a movie built upon an impossible premise involving a villainous plan that is either the most complicated and brilliant scheme ever concocted, or more likely, the hero is simply insane.  The idea is that Bill Marks, a depressed alcoholic air marshal played by Liam Neeson, must stop a would-be hijacking of a plane orchestrated by a villain so devious he must only be the Joker.  Every twenty minutes, the unseen criminal demands over an silent series of text messages that he or she must receive $150 million or he or she will murder one person on-board this plan every twenty minutes.  However, Bill is the only person receiving the texts, and the account is in his name. Things grow more complicated and absurd from there, as Bill Marks is slowly framed for hijacking the plane, bodies pile up, and the word "terrorist" is thrown around a lot.

Ultimately the Who-Done-It? is hardly worth your time, and worth less of your brain power.  Go see "Non-Stop" and then spend about five minutes actually reviewing the events of the film, and you'll realize it was all built upon nothing.  There was no brilliant plan, just the illusion of one built by a lazy screenwriter.  The Done-It-er is just one of the suspects, it honestly could have been anybody, and being able to guess who depends more upon random luck than sharp viewership.  Every action the criminal makes was a fantastic coincidence, often more than impossible, and even then, once the plan is laid bare, it actually makes no sense at all, inevitably collapsing somehow after the criminals were able to impossibly predict every move by the hero for the first hour and a half.  But if all you want is to see Liam Neeson shooting people while barking orders at scared passengers, then "Non-Stop" will probably be a mildly satisfying movie.  But even after your mild satisfaction concludes:  what will you have left?  Time wasted on this Earth, gone forever, and only rapidly fading memories of mediocre entertainment.

Now I went to go see "Non-Stop" for the same reason as the rest of you will:  because Liam Neeson shoots people.  In the last half decade there has grown an entire mini-genre built entirely around Liam Neeson shooting people, usually in a European capital.  Beyond the legendary "Taken", Liam Neeson has also fought wolves in "The Grey", and Germans in the rather clever thriller "Unknown", also directed by Jaume Collet-Serra.  Certainly it is one of the strangest twists of modern Hollywood that after decades of attempting to build new action stars in mediocre leading men such as Sam Worthingon, Jason Momoa, John Cena, Talyor Kitsch, and of all people, Shaq, the one great modern action lead would turn out to be an Irish-accented near-retirement age Academy Award winning veteran actor, Liam Neeson.

Fifteen years ago Neeson could not even beat up Darth Maul, and now, after a brief stretch of playing the elderly mentor character for about a decade, he has returned as an ass-kicking international superstar.  Liam Neeson can play anything you need, be it a saintly savior of the Jews in "Schindler's List", or a bad cop on the loose in "Non-Stop".  What is his appeal?  Because unlike the Kitsches, Worthingtons, and Momoas of the world, Liam Neeson can actually act.  He carries himself with just enough age and weariness to make his characters seem to be on the edge of sanity, and at any point he can erupt into furious explosive violence.  'Intensity', that's the word for what Neeson has.  In an age where most action stars of old seem worn-out, Liam Neeson breaths fresh energy into the genre, despite being roughly the same age as completely exhausted stars such as Bruce Willis or Arnold Swarznegger.

This is no way for a Jedi to behave!

To "Non-Stop"'s credit, it has the right leading man, and generally the right concept for a thriller.  A non-stop flight stuck in the middle of the ocean is a great confided space for a murder mystery.  It is nicely claustrophobic, giving no chance for escape.  And even twelve years later, post-9/11 paranoia has not concluded in the airline world, so any attempted hijacking is met with its own massive issues of suspected terrorism.  Already airports and airlines are essentially miniature police states, with various words being taboo (such as "bomb"), nonsense propaganda about safety, and a Kafka-esque bureaucracy ruling with bored nonsensical authority.  Walking through an airport is probably the most tense experience you can find in the modern world short of going to war.  Not to mention the already crampt hellish experience of actually flying in an airline:  essentially airborn prisons of discomfort, Adam Sandler movies, and what has to be the worst goddamn sandwiches you will ever eat in your life.  Just imagine how worse it can get, when people are dying all around you, and you can barely crane your neck to see the hysteria because a fat Nebraska woman is dozing off in the aisle seat?

The cast is a large crew of assorted actors, most of whom are underused as they exist merely to be victims or suspects.  Bill Marks' fellow air marshal is played by Jim Caviezel, who with his greying long hair, has finally completed his career-long goal of transforming into Eric Roberts.  Julianne Moore plays a helpful passenger who is essentially the Watson to Neeson's gunslinger Holmes.  Future Academy Award Winner, Lupita Nyong'o plays a flight attendant, unfortunately little more than background decoration.  The rest of the cast is filled with otherwise unknowns or television actors, again, only to be suspects, not really to be characters.  You will jump around suspecting Moore, or the Black guy with telecom connections, or the White guy with glasses, or the New York cop, or maybe even the sweet little girl, not that it matters.  The killer could be anybody, not least of which, Neeson himself as some kind of amnesiac super villain.

Roller coaster photos never look dignified.

To be fair, "Non-Stop" is well-shot and well-made, with all of its parts clearly put together with care (besides the plot, of course).  The camera work is impressive, giving a great variety to what could have been a very plain-looking movie in a single setting.  You get plenty of wide shots on the various suspects, every gesture a potential admittance of guilt.  The movie does do a very nice job pounding away its running time, with plenty of new twists coming together to keep the energy moving.  Towards the end I believe the situation becomes far too complicated and slightly exhausting, but this is still a decently-made movie created by competent filmmakers.  Again, Liam Neeson brings a burnt-down heavily edgy performance.  There's nothing to be ashamed of here, but really just... nothing to be proud of.

If all you want is two hours of your life to disappear very quickly, go see "Non-Stop" today.  That is the entire scope of its appeal:  as a time sink.

* Such as, the wonderfully misguided John Cusack thriller "Identity", which had the single most hilarious twist of any movie I believe in all of history.  Turns out all of the victims and the killer are all inside a crazy fat man's mind, and the entire film was a dream somehow induced by psychiatrists to cure this guy's multiple-personality disorder.  Not making that up.

** Unless it is the brilliant 80s comedy, "Clue".

1 comment:

  1. I thought the movie was good, but its ending was not believable.

    I am not sure if you noticed that, an agent was recorded apparently hijacking a plane, it was uploaded to the Internet, received hundreds of millions of views, and that video appeared on the news, all of this within two hours.