What do you do with a suicidal alcoholic who can’t hold down a job? You give him an air marshal’s position and let him prevent terrorism on our airplanes, of course! That’s what the fine folks have done with Bill Marks (Liam Neeson), who is the protagonist of Non-Stop. His job is to stop any “incidents” that might happen on the airplane, so when he gets a text that claims that a person will die every 20 minutes unless $150 million is wired to a specific account, you know there’s going to be trouble.
That, in short, is the plot of Non-Stop, which is a film whose villain is less evil and more serving the film’s primary point, which is that maybe we should look at the way security is handled when it comes to airplanes. See, it’s not about the money, or about killing anyone; it’s about showing how Bill isn’t fit to be an air marshal, how he never should have been hired, and how easy it would be for an air marshal to hijack a plane. Yes, Bill is being framed — or is he? — so not only does he have to deal with his anonymous texter, but he also has to deal with everyone onboard working against him, since it looks like he’s the one behind it all.
The other important characters: Jen (Julianne Moore), the woman sitting next to Bill on the plane; Nancy (Michelle Dockery), the main flight attendant; Zack (Nate Parker), a computer programmer; Austin (Corey Stoll), a member of the NYPD; Gwen (Lupita Nyong’o), an Oscar-winner forced into a completely pointless role; Dr. Nasir (Omar Metwally), a doctor who treats random injuries; Tom (Scoot McNairy), a school teacher; and Jack (Anson Mount), the other air marshal — there are two on each plane. One of these people is behind it all, probably.
So it’s a thriller that also has something on its mind. Great. That’s what the good thrillers do, assuming, of course, that they’re also thrilling. Non-Stop intermittently is that. It isn’t really able to sustain the amount of tension and suspense that it’d like, but it’ll keep you engaged since you’re unlikely to be sure who it is, and then eventually a bomb is found and bombs are inherently scary, especially if you’re on an airplane.
Does it all eventually make sense? I suppose so. Is it purposeful? Yeah. Why am I not more excited for Non-Stop? Technically it does pretty much everything I’d like it to, and it’s not like I was bored while I was watching it. So, what gives? I suppose that’s something for me to figure out, but in all honesty I don’t know. There’s something missing. Something important. But I can’t put my finger on it.
I’d initially guess it’s the shallow characters, but that kind of makes sense given how the immediate threat is all that would be talked about in real life. We find a little bit about Bill and Jen, but that’s about it, and it’s relayed a little awkwardly. So that isn’t it. Maybe there are too many characters, some of whom exist just to spout exposition. Maybe it’s how wasted Lupita Nyong’o is in her role. Or how some of the things the criminal mastermind knew are never explained. How does he know Bill smokes the lavatory, for example? That kind of bugs me.
Maybe it’s how — despite the good intentions the film has — impossible all of this feels. There’s suspension of disbelief, and then there’s suspension of disbelief. This would be the latter. Lots of this simply couldn’t happen, and there’s more than one occasion when you’ll shake your head or smirk because you know this. It’s a little too silly and stupid to believe. Some people will easily be able to overlook these, while other people will be bothered by them and they might wind up ruining the experience as a result. I think that might’ve happened for me.
On paper, Non-Stop is an effective thriller. Most of its plot adds up, it is, for the most part, suspenseful, and it’s all done in service of a point. If you’re someone who gets caught up on the details, or has trouble suspending your disbelief too far, Non-Stop might push past those boundaries and you’re not going to enjoy it as a result. If you can overlook those sorts of things, you’re in for a fun ride.