And we begin with the Hollywood Reporter‘s Todd McCarthy: “A constant low boil of ridiculousness both mocks and sustains Non-Stop, a jerry-rigged terror-on-a-plane thriller with a premise so far-fetched as to create a degree of suspense over how the writers will wriggle out of the knot of their own making. With a setup and dramatic rationale more strange than compelling, this almost entirely airborne concoction is an easy sell as this season’s Liam Neeson kick-ass action entry.”
“It’s February, which means it’s time to watch Liam Neeson beat the stuffing out of some villains,” writes TheWrap‘s Alonso Duralde. “This time around, Neeson plays Bill Marks, a tortured, boozy air marshal who’s being played by a cunning nemesis, one who’s doing everything possible to make it seem as though Bill is the one who’s actually hijacking the plane, and not the guy who is really trying to save the day. The screenplay by first-timers John W. Richardson & Christopher Roach and Ryan Engle may bite off more than it can chew, but for most of its flight time, Non-Stop is a cheesy delight, down to its improbable plot twists and the inevitable appearance of a red LED display showing how long Bill has to rescue passengers and crew before everything goes kablooey.”
“Taken meets Speed on a plane, with a dash of Agatha Christie,” suggests Caryn James. “Yes, it’s hokey, but Neeson is surrounded by a cast as good, and as ready to pick up a big-budget salary, as he is. Julianne Moore plays his seatmate, who has insisted on the window seat; is she up to something? Michelle Dockery leaves Lady Mary back at Downton Abbey to play the flight attendant Marks calls on for help; has he misjudged her? Corey Stoll (the dearly missed Peter Russo from House of Cards) is a passenger, Linus Roche the pilot, and Lupita Nyong’o a flight attendant with so little screen time that we know she was cast before 12 Years a Slave arrived.”
This “sometimes inspired, mostly serviceable doomed-airliner thriller… reunites its star with Unknown director Jaume Collet-Serra for another round of pseudo-Hitchcockian hijinks,” writes Variety‘s Scott Foundas. “Lacking anywhere near as clever as script this time, Neeson and Collet-Serra put this wronged-man programmer dutifully through its paces, with plenty of the gruff machismo and close-quarters grappling that have made the 61-year-old actor a late-career global action star. (Can an Expendables cameo be far in the future?)…. Typecasting isn’t necessarily a liability if you’re an actor with Neeson’s knack for sauntering through a scene as though his body were weighing heavily on his shoulders, and woe be to all who obstruct his path.”
For Screen‘s Tim Grierson, “despite a pretty impressive cast for what’s essentially a disposable B-movie, Non-Stop makes more noise than sense.”
“The movie does hit some turbulence towards the third act, and the ending is problematic at best,” finds Drew Taylor at the Playlist. “Non-Stop isn’t exactly a smooth ride, but as far it being the big screen equivalent of an airplane novel, one that you read on the flight and throw away when you get to your destination, it is wildly successful. Just don’t think too hard about it.”
Updates, 2/27: “Part locked-room mystery, part political allegory, Non-Stop is one of the most purely enjoyable entries in the ongoing cycle of Liam Neeson action-thrillers, tempering the star’s gruff strongman antics with surveillance-state commentary that’s more clever than subversive,” finds Ignatiy Vishnevetsky, writing for the AV Club.
“Non-Stop asks, not unreasonably, for some suspension of disbelief,” writes Scott Tobias at the Dissolve, “but it just keeps on asking and asking until it become comically absurd to think through all the variables the culprit had to take into consideration. When the mask finally comes off, the real purpose of the hijacking is equally confused and tasteless in evoking real-life tragedy, matched by action that treats the physics of flight like the physics of deep space.”
“For a film that may well take a nosedive after its opening weekend,” writes R. Kurt Osenlund at Slant, “Non-Stop is made with far more care and visual detail than you might expect…. [W]e’re shown that the true terror can be media itself, engulfing us as it induces paranoia, promotes distrust of government officials, and elicits potentially fatal knee-jerk judgments. Non-Stop would have been a truly killer ride if it knew what it boasted before it unmasked its baddie and over-expressed its point.”
“Would that the climax lived up to the tension-filled first two thirds,” sighs Time Out‘s Keith Uhlich. “Let’s just say that Non-Stop reaches for some pointed post-9/11 political commentary that almost entirely exceeds its grasp. Total brainlessness, in this case, would have been a virtue.”
“Nobody’s demanding an action-thriller plot that’s 100 percent plausible,” writes the Voice‘s Stephanie Zacharek. “But is 55 percent too much to ask?”
Tom Shone for the Guardian: “I’m a sucker for aircraft thrillers that try to observe the Aristotelian unities—a small if flawed group that includes Executive Decision, Passenger 57, Flight Plan and Wes Craven’s half-brilliant Red Eye—although I’m less of a fan of these screenwriter-ex-machina villains, with their overly precise demands and insinuating insights into the hero’s private life…. Only once has the Neesploitation film touched greatness, in Joe Carnahan’s The Grey, a keening, white-knuckled scrap of a film about life and death in the tundra that is on its way, I believe, to becoming a minor classic. Non-stop is the flimsiest of black box recorders, by contrast, that never threatens to make even intermittent sense, but it hangs together on the bulky shoulders of its star.”
“Thanks to a dopey-fun scenario, and a great cast,” writes Simon Abrams for the Nashville Scene, “Non-Stop is a superior time-suck.”
Updates, 3/1: “Non-Stop doesn’t make any sense, but that’s expected, uninteresting and incidental to the pleasures of a slow-season Liam Neeson release as diverting as this one,” finds the New York Times‘ Manohla Dargis. Collet-Serra has “a sure genre hand and real feeling for what Mr. Neeson brings to the screen at this stage of his career, including beauty etched by time and a still-imposing body that moves with the heaviness and grandeur of an old warrior raising his sword one last time. When Mr. Neeson runs through the aisles, he can sometimes seem too big for this vehicle, even if he turns out to be exactly right.”
“With Non-Stop, Collet-Serra confirms his status of one of Hollywood’s most inventive genre artists (and one of the last to shoot on film),” writes R. Emmet Sweeney for Film Comment:
Born in Barcelona, he moved to Los Angeles at the age of 18, and got his start making music videos and commercials. The great American huckster Joel Silver hired him to direct the 2005 remake of House of Wax, a shockingly good slasher movie that runs on class resentment, embodied in the plasticine grin of Paris Hilton.
After a detour in England for the soccer sequel Goal II: Living the Dream (07), he returned stateside for Orphan (09), a variation of the evil-child subgenre that doubles as a critique of a bourgeois marriage—Peter Sarsgaard and Vera Farmiga’s modernist wood and glass home slices them up in Collet-Serra’s lacerating compositions. (The satanic Estonian midget masquerading as a sweet little girl is just a bonus.) Add in Unknown and Non-Stop, and it’s becoming clear that Collet-Serra is interested in the fungibility of identity, and how easily our sense of self can be manipulated.
“When you see how Collet-Serra stages combat in the cramped quarters of an airplane restroom,” writes Nick Pinkerton at Sundance Now, “you can believe that he’s been taking notes from Richard Fleischer’s Narrow Margin, while the work of many gigging American directors suggests that they haven’t been acquainted with the wholly disposable pop culture that are among their nation’s most lasting cultural legacies.” And for Film Comment, he revisits Sam Raimi’s Darkman (1990) and Russell Mulcahy’s The Shadow (1994): “Darkman was prescient in more ways than one, for it gave star Liam Neeson, then 37 years old, his first really meaty action role of the sort that now constitute his entire career. It was also one of the first films to fully exploit Neeson’s particular ability to convey bewildered hurt.”
Collet-Serra’s “compositions are striking, his camerawork fluid, his command of mood and atmosphere precise,” writes Calum Marsh for Esquire. “He also puts in the work a lot of his contemporaries don’t. Things like character development and psychological shading are executed thoughtfully rather than merely hurried over, and as a result you get a sense that the film cares as much about the people in the film as the plot they’re thrown into.”
More from John Anderson (Thompson on Hollywood), Nigel Andrews (Financial Times, 3/5), Nicholas Bell (Ioncinema, 2.5/5), Peter Bradshaw (Guardian, 3/5), Robbie Collin (Telegraph, 3/5), Paul Constant (Stranger), David Edelstein (New York), Robert Horton (Herald), Geoffrey Macnab (Independent, 3/5), Susan Wloszczyna (RogerEbert.com, 2.5/4) and Curtis Woloschuk (Paste).