May 1, 2020
‘Non-Stop:’ We Reflect on Liam Neeson and the Way We Cannot Hate Him Ever
How do you begin to explain Liam Neeson? Liam Neeson was an an award-winning, critically-acclaimed actor with star-power and cred. He was Oskar Schindler! He was Michael Collins! He was that nice priest in Breakfast on Pluto! Liam Neeson was the bestest!
But for the past six years he’s commanded the complicated role of Generic CIA/FBI/Whatever Operative With Nothing to Lose, And Also They Took His Daughter™. In everything. For six years.
It’s the weirdest second act in Hollywood. He is the Anti-Matthew McConaughey.
But we still love Liam Neeson. Of course we do, because he’s tall and handsome and Irish and seems really, really nice and smart IRL. Liam Neeson is the whole reason Non-Stop, his newest action flick about a plane hijacking, is bearable at all. Putting Liam Neeson in your movie means that no matter how stupid or nuts your movie is, the audience can’t quite make themselves hate it. It’s a solid business plan.
In fact, the biggest failure in Non-Stop is that it doesn’t go nuts enough. The first hour or so seems to want to verge into “Snakes on a Plane”-style, full-throttled lunacy. There are wise-cracking/lecherous pilots. The name of the airline is “Aqualantic.” The evil mastermind’s overly-complicated scheme involves cocaine, a bomb, and a crapload of terrorist/air marshal sexting. One of the biggest plot devices rests on the fact that nobody follows the no phones rule on airplanes. Neeson even tapes up the smoke alarm in the bathroom so he can smoke. And there’s kind of a fun Hitchcockian vibe that runs through the plot – a man who kills a plane passenger every 20 minutes while simultaneously framing the air marshal trying to stop it. It’s like Murder on the Orient Express, except, you know, on a plane.
It’s enjoyable right up until when the killer and motive is revealed. I won’t spoiler-alert you, but rest assured it is pretty lame. Suddenly the movie tries to be serious and thoughtful about the nature of security in the 21st century, and how we react to grief, and a lot of other Big Thoughts. Big Thoughts are not this movie’s strong suit.
Thankfully then Neeson shoots a guy while he is suspended in mid-air.
Liam Neeson was Valjean in Les Miserables. Just reminding you.
Who else is in this movie besides Liam Neeson? It’s not really important, but Michelle Dockery takes a break from being emotionally constipated on “Downton Abbey” to be a flight attendant. Julianne Moore is given a vaguely sketched out role, but manages to imbue it with actual, for real humanity. Even Lupita Nyong’o turns up as the other flight attendant (with almost no lines). It’s kind of neat to watch because they quite obviously didn’t know who they had, otherwise they would have given her Dockery’s role.
But this is essentially a one-man show. Neeson doesn’t seem to be “acting” per se. He’s says things, and generally in the correct manner they should be said. He walks around. He reacts to things that are said to him. He runs and jumps and sits. But even Liam Neeson at 20 percent capacity is pretty likable. You root for Neeson implicitly. And so, while Non-Stop is not nearly worth the $10 it would take to go see it, like always, it’s impossible to hate.