By Christopher Lawrence
You’ll never see Tiger Woods leave the PGA Tour to spend his days playing putt-putt.
Even if the mini-golf course were right next door to a Hooters.
So why is Liam Neeson only making movies like “Non-Stop”?
When “Taken” came out in 2008, it was a novelty. Half of that movie’s charm was in seeing the talented, well-respected Oscar nominee running amok in France and snapping a bunch of Albanians in half.
Since then, though, Neeson has starred in “The A-Team,” “Battleship,” “Clash of the Titans,” “Wrath of the Titans,” “Unknown” and, of course, “Taken 2.”
It’s enough to make you wonder if he’ll ever again headline a good movie.
“Non-Stop” won’t alleviate those concerns.
Neeson stars as U.S. Air Marshal Bill Marks, who’s first seen in an airport parking garage stirring an Irish coffee with his toothbrush. For his flight from New York to London, he brings along duct tape to cover the restroom sensors so he can sneak off for a smoke. Marks isn’t exactly Denzel in “Flight,” but those scenes are enough to let viewers know he’s not at the top of his game.
Still, he snaps to attention midflight when he starts receiving text messages over a secure government network from someone threatening to kill one of the 150 people onboard every 20 minutes until $150 million is wired to a bank account. Whoever’s behind the messages knows plenty of personal information about Marks and even refers to his daughter by name.
The person responsible for the plot is trying to frame Marks as a hijacker and has set up the bank account in his name. Combined with his increasingly erratic behavior and his tendency to rough up passengers, Marks makes a mighty good suspect when bodies start dropping. He’s labeled a terrorist in the eyes of everyone from cable news talking heads to his TSA contact (Shea Whigham) to his fellow passengers, several of whom stage a revolt.
So which of them is responsible for the threats?
Is it Marks’ sketchy fellow marshal? The combative guy who says he’s a New York cop? The Muslim everyone’s been giving the hairy eyeball? That unaccompanied little girl clutching a teddy bear has been looking plenty suspicious.
Actually that last one would be awesome.
I’d pay to see that movie.
“Non-Stop’s” premise feels a lot like something Agatha Christie might have written in her final days just to pay the rent. The movie’s entire success or failure hinges on the revelation of the criminal mastermind. Sadly, no one involved is up to the task, and the ultimate motivation for the absurdly elaborate plot drifts pretty far to the dopey side.
That’s not terribly surprising, though, considering it’s the exact same problem that derailed Neeson’s “Unknown,” and both movies share a director in Jaume Collet-Serra. Neither was helped by a screenplay credited to the unlikely trio of first-timer Ryan Engle, former WWE writer Chris Roach and John W. Richardson, whose highest-profile gigs have been editing “Big Brother” and “Wipeout.”
There’s some close-quarters combat in a restroom, and Marks gets to fend off a knife attack with an oxygen mask. But that’s about where “Non-Stop’s” originality peters out.
Aside from a little speech Marks gets to make, about how he hasn’t been a very good dad or a very good man, while trying to rally passengers to his side, there’s painfully little actual acting for Neeson to do.
He’s not the only one slumming in “Non-Stop,” though. Julianne Moore cashes a paycheck as Marks’ seatmate and confidant. And the underused and woefully underdeveloped flight attendants are played by “Downton Abbey’s” Michelle Dockery and Lupita Nyong’o, the best supporting actress frontrunner at Sunday’s Oscars for her tragic turn in “12 Years a Slave.”
The latter two can be forgiven as they’re just starting out in Hollywood.
But Neeson’s B-movie phase stopped being interesting a while ago.
If he’s not careful, his legacy won’t be that of a great actor who somehow made a few generic action flicks, but that of an action star who somehow ended up in a couple of prestigious films along the way.
Contact Las Vegas Review-Journal movie critic Christopher Lawrence at firstname.lastname@example.org