By ALAN SWERDLOW
Non-Stop/Directed by Jaume Collet-Serra/PG13
Hack: Someone producing dull, unoriginal work.
Kneed: That sharp jab in the kidneys that you feel when sitting in an airline seat, initiated by the guy behind, who – though short – cannot fit his legs into the ludicrous space provided.
Hackneyed: Trite, unoriginal work which engenders the utter ennui of having seen it all before. and it’s not deja-vu – you have!
So there’s Liam Neeson, apparently accepting of his cruel fate that at the age of 60-plus he’s condemned to play action roles for evermore … I dunno, he coulda been a contender. What’s more, he seems to enjoy it, though a good hard stare at his eyes reveals them to be inert, deadened and disengaged. Or maybe he’s acting really, really subtly. He actually delivers everything we need know about William Marks, the air-marshal he impersonates in Non-Stop, in the first few minutes of the film. Seated in his car in an airport parking lot, he swills whisky from a paper-cup, sprays his mouth with breath-freshener and touches the photo of a young girl clipped to the sun visor. Then he lumbers off to his job on board a non-stop (ha!) transatlantic flight to London.
He’s seated next to Julianne Moore, which should raise one’s spirits but doesn’t, and the presence of Lady Mary, I mean Michelle Dockery, as Chief Cabin Attendant means this is one very classy airline that Bill has been assigned to (names have been changed to protect the airline industry). Shortly after take-off he receives some threatening text-messages from someone demanding a large ransom and predicting the death of a different passenger on board every 20 minutes unless he complies.
And we’re off, complete with glimpses of ticking countdowns and onscreen text-bubbles, the latest cliché du jour. The others come thick and fast, including the realisation that the extortionist murderer is on the plane. Egad! As the hokum piles up, contributing to the manipulated claustrophobia, so does the knowledge that for the vast majority of the film, we are to be confined to the cabin, though there is a gesture of kindness on the part of those responsible since we do get to move freely between Steerage and Business Class.
There’s a kind of relief as the penny drops: it’s a classic Agatha Christie remote country-house murder mystery, which may go some way to explain the presence of Michelle Dockery! You can just see a host of alternative titles including Murder In The Pressurised Cabin, Death In The Mile High Club Class, and (spoiler alert) Death By Peashooter.
Liam gets to exercise his little grey cells a bit, but more often than not it’s muscle-flexing that’s called for as it’s Neeson Superhero we’ve really come to see. However, director Collett-Serra and his scriptwriters lose control almost immediately the plane takes off. The subsequent absurdities are too forced and unbelievable to allow for any rising tension, and the film is way too po-faced about itself. At least Snakes On A Plane was made with zest and wit.
There is, though, a splendid fight to the death in a coach class loo which takes confinement to elevated heights, and a nifty shot which exits through a Business Class porthole and re-enters the same way in Steerage, travelling the length of the plane on the outside (breathe deep, everyone, breathe deep!).
Otherwise, you can pre-guess every plot and character development, right down to the tired old “He’s The Murderer/No He Isn’t/Gosh, He Actually Is/No He Isn’t, Really” repetition, which brings the whole exercise perilously close to Panto Time.
Or maybe I got it all wrong, and it’s merely a heartfelt attempt to pre-empt the use of cell-phones on airplanes in any form at all, something with which I concur totally!