Movie Review - Non-Stop
What Scream did quite successfully was make phones, particularly cell phones terrifying. It used the modern device as an instrument of fear. Similarly, When a Stranger Calls (1979) did the same with the rotary phone. The recent sequel Scream 4 didn't really advance things. Given the movie was all about Generation X's push-back against the Millennials and this meta-generation that's all about digital technology, the Internet and mobile devices didn't play as big a role as one might assume. Non-Stop does have digital technology play a big role. It makes the now ubiquitous text message an instrument of fear.
Just as in Scream, when Craven had a clear shot of a cell phone falling to the ground and made this shot a source of anxiety and doubt of one's safety, here, director Jaume Collet-Serra, the Spanish filmmaker who's mostly known for directing horror films like House of Wax and Orphan, as well as episodes of the short-lived horror TV series on ABC, The River, has a shot of people texting and makes this shot evoke the same source of anxiety and doubt of one's safety.
Being that Non-Stop takes place on board a plane with Liam Neeson playing a U.S. Air Marshall who becomes aware of a terrorist plot, one might assume any comparisons to Scream end there. For starters, Neve Campbell plays the protagonist. She's certainly not the tall, brick-house, 61-year-old, fisticuffs-winning and gun-wielding, Irish, action star that Neeson is. Yet, Neeson's character does have some things in common with Campbell's, as John W. Richardson, Chris Roach and Ryan Engle's script has some things in common with Kevin Williamson's. Both suffer from the loss of a family member. Both become the subject of or privy to a frame job, and, spoiler alert, at the end, both are victimized by not one but multiple people working in collaboration.
Just like a horror film, the characters are trapped in a confined space or isolated area, and a threat that you don't really see coming starts to kill people one by one. I suppose what separates the film are the well-choreographed fight scenes. Because Neeson can perform some martial arts, then this movie is no longer horror. Because there is a huge action set piece, then this movie is no longer horror, but, does having a huge action set piece mean the movie isn't meant to be scary? Scream 3 had a huge, house explosion. Final Destination (2000) had its own plane crash. World War Z also had its huge plane crash. Does that mean those movies aren't horror?
I would be less inclined to call Non-Stop an action film and more inclined to call it a fairly clever murder mystery with an action movie villain with a ridiculous motive. The fun comes, therefore, with watching Neeson's character Bill Marks try to solve that murder mystery as he goes through suspect after suspect, each played by an extraordinary supporting actor or actress.
Those actors include Julianne Moore, Nate Parker, Corey Stoll who gets some great one-liners, probably made great because he's delivering them. They're buttressed by also great supporting actors like Linus Roache, Scoot McNairy, Jason Butler Harner, Anson Mount, Lupita Nyong'o and Omar Metwally.
Some might object to the post-September 11, 2001, security issues raised here. If people disapproved of those protestors who sneaked things past TSA and airport security in order to show the inefficiencies of that security, then those people will further disapprove as this movie takes that idea to its extreme. Given the image of the recent Asiana Airlines Flight 214 crash in July 2013, that was more in the foreground of my mind than United Airlines Flight 93, which crashed on September 11 and which this movie also invokes, if you've seen Paul Greengrass' United 93. None of it is enough to derail the momentum this movie significantly embraces. It's truly a thrill ride.
Five Stars out of Five.
Rated PG-13 for action and violence, some language, sensuality and drug references.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 46 mins.