Non-Stop review: Check Reality at the Gate

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If you can check your attachment to reality with your luggage as you board Non-Stop, starring Liam Neeson, it is a fun ride - in a classic murder mystery style. If not, don't bother.

Neeson’s character, Bill Marks, is an Air Marshal on a flight that goes horribly wrong when a threat is made to the plane.  Instead of a straight-up hijacking, this is a mind game.  The villain sends texts threatening a death on board every 20 minutes unless $150 million is deposited in an account.  So much of the plot and so many of the details are completely implausible, but with a great cast, fast pacing, and focus on the mystery itself, I found it pretty easy to dismiss my disbelief and get caught up.  Along the way the hidden mystery villain casts suspicion on Marks, who ends up being the one accused of hijacking the plane.  This gives the mystery a heightened element of risk, turning CLUE into Chess and blocking Neeson’s moves at every advance.

There isn’t much original about the film. Stereotypes abound almost to the point of camp.  The brooding Neeson, the corrupt partner, the child traveling alone. There’s the busy but vulnerable traveling businesswoman, the cop, the Muslim doctor, the loud belligerent punk… Within the first few minutes of the film the plane is already in the air and much of the cast is already identified by easily recognizable types.  But that’s part of what makes it fun.  The butler, Colonel Mustard and the rest – categorizing people helps set up the expectations, which leads to suspicions when we start trying to figure out ‘whodunit.’
So what makes this rather mediocre B-movie enjoyable is the same thing that makes people host murder mystery dinners.  Can we figure it out before anyone else does? Are we picking up on all the clues? Who is hiding in plain sight? And Non-Stop does this part particularly well.  Every person on the plane is suspect at some point (well – maybe not the little kid). I have a nasty habit of predicting endings, and this one kept me guessing. 

For parents, this is a rather benign PG-13.  I know I’ve taken issue with the level of violence allowed in PG-13 lately.  Non-Stop does have action-related violence.  Just watch the trailers. Neeson is rough.  At one point, Neeson’s character kills a man in a fight (in an airplane bathroom! Not much is shown, it’s mostly sound effects due to the close quarters).  People die from poisoning, which is depicted as foaming at the mouth – disturbing, but not graphic. Guns are featured, mostly waved around and used for threatening, fired a little near the end.   Most upsetting for younger viewers would probably be the plane crash landing. Again, not graphic, just scary.  As for language, mild cursing throughout, with the obligatory one use of the F word.  I would not have a problem with my 14 year old seeing this movie – and maybe my 12 year old.  I don’t think my younger kids would be interested, and I think the general theme is frightening enough that I’d steer clear with them.

For couples, this is a viable option for a night out.  Enough action for the guys, enough story and mystery for the gals.  Roll-your-eyes-fun. And while Neeson and Julianne Moore are the big names headlining the film, when the head flight attendant stepped on the screen, my husband leaned over and whispered, “recognize her?” My response was “pfsshff, seriously? You have to ask?” Yes, my Downton friends, Lady Mary (Michelle Dockery) serves drinks rather than being served, as Nancy, the loyal and courageous flight attendant!  Very fun to see her in this role.

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