Non-Stop owns its own title: As an air terror thriller, this Hollywood movie is insanely intense, engaging, terrifying and occasionally both touching and humourous. The thrills and chills element really is non-stop.
The only thing you have to do is ignore the plot holes. But, because director Jaume Collet-Serra fills those holes with so much fun, Non-Stop works from beginning to end.
The beginning sets up the tension, right from the first scene with a moody U.S. air marshal (Liam Neeson) preparing to board a New York-London flight. We quickly learn he is a chain-smoking, anti-social alcoholic. We get clues that he has serious family issues. The man is a train wreck — or an airline crash — waiting to happen.
Neeson, who worked with Collet-Serra on Unknown (2011) and who routinely ridicules filmmakers for continuing to hire him for physically demanding action roles in his 60s, is absolutely engaging and believable in the role. He may be 61 and obliged to muscle-up for hand-to-hand combat in tight places in Non-Stop, but this is a perfect match of actor and action role.
During the waiting and then the boarding process, Collet-Serra and his filmmaking team brilliantly set us on edge. Every passenger becomes a potential threat. Fasten your seatbelts, you are in for a rocky night trapped in a jet flying miles above the Atlantic Ocean.
As conceived and written by John W. Richardson, Christopher Roach and Ryan Engle, Non-Stop employs modern technology to set up the action. Still working undercover, Neeson starts getting threatening messages on his personal communication device. This is supposed to be a secure network, but the hacker promises to start killing someone every 20 minutes if Neeson does not capitulate to his demands. Sure enough, in 20 minutes, someone is dead, but not in any way that you can imagine. Right off, Non-Stop offers fresh twists in the traditional air terrorist plot. And the clock keeps being reset.
In the final act, we get a big blather scene where the motives of those threats are made clear. This is the weakest link in the chain. It is crudely done, too generalized to matter and not very convincing. Fortunately, Collet-Serra soon gets us back into the action. Meanwhile, the most telling socio-political point is showing how the U.S. television media irresponsibly handles breaking news about terrorism. Instead of dealing with facts, commentators quickly resort to speculation and jingoism. The movie silently ridicules them for their excesses.
The stellar support cast around Neeson helps to sell the thrills. Julianne Moore aces a role as a woman who happens to sit beside Neeson on the flight; Scoot McNairy, Michelle Dockery, Nate Parker, Corey Stoll, Shea Whigham and Omar Metwally all liven up key characters. Oscar nominee Lupita Nyong’o (12 Years a Slave) has a throw-away cameo as a stewardess — but she looks fabulous.
The special effects are effective, especially in the final act when the action moves from micro to macro in scale. The Barcelona-born Collet-Serra provides strong direction. Non-Stop is so realistic you might never fly again.