Skip to main content

What? That doesn't make any sense.

Non-Stop
(2014)

(SPOILERS) I’d assumed latest picture in Liam Neeson’s  career rebirth as an Action Lunk came from the Luc Besson stable. And I continued under that illusion all the way up to the point where I checked up on the legion of producers. The incredible tin ear for dialogue and profound lack of self-consciousness shown towards its dopey sentimentality and swathe of clichés marked it out as a Gallic piece of nonsense to rival Taken (remember poor Liam getting upset at his daughter’s birthday party?) Non-Stop really needed to embrace its absurdity to fully click, perhaps not in the geek-baiting manner of Snakes on a Plane, but through a willingness to follow through on the mental set-up. That it’s so entertaining is all down to director Jaume Collet-Serra, who also brought lashings of style to another movie that started well but turned into a bit of let-down; Unknown.


The director and star obviously get on; they have Run All Night up next, where Neeson’s an “aging hitman”. Just don’t get Liam to smile next time, Jaume. It’s the most uncomfortable thing you’ve ever seen; the very act looks as if it’s about to bring him to tears or dislocate his jaw.


Collet-Serra is one director who really deserves the opportunity to prove himself on an A-picture. Instead he’s stuck rehashing over-familiar storylines and plot devices. One might argue Collet-Serra makes some capital on prior associations with Unknown in the screenplay by Chris Roach (I’m sure he’s proud of those WWF credits), John W Richardson and Ryan Engle. Is Liam suffering from a split personality? Could he be both saviour of the plane that holds a mysteriously evil texting mastermind and that mysteriously evil texting mastermind? The thought stayed with me for longer than it probably should have, but as neither Neeson nor Collet-Serra have shown much appetite for originality of late I couldn’t dismiss it as too far-fetched.


That the reveal is so mundane, and the perpetrators motives so confused (they’re trying to expose the US’ lack of security by taking down one of their planes?!!), can only be a disappointment. At the point two of the passengers stand to reveal their nefariousness, the thrilling notion that, in some beserk riff on Murder on the Orient Express, everyone on board would be revealed to be in on the plot, out to take down poor Liam suggested itself. Alas it was not to be. I couldn’t even take comfort in the most unlikely suspect (the little girl Neeson talks to at the start, to show how he’s a nice guy deep down despite stinking of booze and fags) turning out to be a murderous little oik. After all, Collet-Serra also directed Orphan.


Nevertheless, the movie makes much momentum from the steady barrage of tropes it lobs at the audience. Neeson’s air marshal Bill Marks is a burnt out alcoholic and nicotine–junkie. You’d almost believe the writers were “inspired” by Denzel in Flight. Wouldn’t it have been fantastic if Neeson had spent the entire proceedings pissed out of his gourd, but still throwing punches with the best of them and solving the crime (like The Thin Man, but more bone-crunching and not very romantic)? Instead he looks upset or intense, always his main modes of expression, like he’s been caught in a state of perpetually mid-soiling himself. For a man so tall, Neeson finds it surprisingly easy to accommodate himself on board. We see from his passport that he was born in Ireland, but his use of American English spellings in his text messages announces that either he, or the special effects crew, have spent 99% of their time across the Pond.


The texting device is familiar, but has a few nice quirks; when a damaged phone’s messages appear on screen, the imagery is fractured and fuzzy. What’s most impressive is how Collet-Serra sustains the tension in this environment. And credit to the writers (I need to throw a morcel their way, I suppose), this should run out of steam long before it does. There’s no small hilarity to see Neeson breaking every taboo of post-911 inflight behaviour with his every action, much to the consternation of all aboard (and in particular Corey Stoll’s New York cop; the John McClane who doesn’t). And for a time at least, we share his bafflement as to what’s going on.


To help things along, there are a series of surprisingly deft action scenes. The director stages an outstanding fight in a cramped toilet cubicle, one that rivals Connery’s altercations in similarly confined surroundings in From Russia With Love and Diamonds are Forever. There’s also a magnificent dust up between Neeson and an array of passengers attempting to take the big man down but resoundingly failing (it’s like the Burley Brawl from The Matrix Reloaded, but good). And the first kill is a lovely little twister; having been warned someone is to die in the next 10 minutes, Liam not only can’t prevent it, but the victim is revealed to be at his own hands.


What’s ultimately disappointing is how stodgy the parade of clichés is. It invites Airplane! asides every few minutes. The (inherently) dubious looking Middle Eastern traveller is a noble English doctor (of course he is!); the initial antagonism between Neeson and Stoll becomes a cute bromance (Neeson tells Stoll he’s a much better cop than he ever was; so, that’s why Neeson beat the living shit out of him with barely a flick of the wrist); the moment where everything stops for Neeson to pour his heart out to all present. It should be magnificent folly, but it’s just toe-curling. Likewise, the sheer crazy of the plane’s climactic landing doesn’t sufficiently revel in the unlikeliness of it all.


Neeson only has himself to blame for staying on this career path, although his bank balance is surely amenable. The supporting actors are to be sympathised with, however. Julianne Moore, still looking very lovely, is consigned to the plucky female part. Oscar-winning Lupita Nyong’o’s Grace Jones haircut makes an impression, but her performance doesn’t. Scoot McNairy balances all those strong indie roles by paying the bills, but really he isn’t very good (he has bugger all to work with, though). There’s also Linus Roache and Shea Whigham (well he had to be in here somewhere, didn’t he?)


Non-Stop’s unlikely to disappoint anyone. Why would you go and see a movie with that title and expert golden nuggets?  It’s an expertly put together piece of hokum that just occasionally breaks into the territory of a great thriller. But mostly it’s content to coast on the familiarity of its set-up and the ludicrousness of its twists. However, the most worrying part of the movie isn’t the script that acts like Zucker/Abrahams never happened, or the under-use of the talent. It comes right at the end, as Neeson and Moore share a moment on the tarmac. Moore says something chortlesome and Liam smiles. And there it is. Like the act is causing the man unimaginable, inconceivable pain. Like he’d rather be anywhere than pretending he ever laughs or ever finds anything remotely amusing. There’s good reason the last time he played up the funny was way back in High Spirits.


***

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

She writes Twilight fan fiction.

Vampire Academy (2014)
My willingness to give writer Daniel Waters some slack on the grounds of early glories sometimes pays off (Sex and Death 101) and sometimes, as with this messy and indistinct Young Adult adaptation, it doesn’t. If Vampire Academy plods along as a less than innovative smart-mouthed Buffy rip-off that might be because, if you added vampires to Heathers, you would probably get something not so far from the world of Joss Whedon. Unfortunately inspiration is a low ebb throughout, not helped any by tepid direction from Daniel’s sometimes-reliable brother Mark and a couple of hopelessly plankish leads who do their best to dampen down any wit that occasionally attempts to surface.

I can only presume there’s a never-ending pile of Young Adult fiction poised for big screen failure, all of it comprising multi-novel storylines just begging for a moment in the Sun. Every time an adaptation crashes and burns (and the odds are that they will) another one rises, hydra-like, hoping…

Rejoice! The broken are the more evolved. Rejoice.

Split (2016)
(SPOILERS) M Night Shyamalan went from the toast of twist-based filmmaking to a one-trick pony to the object of abject ridicule in the space of only a couple of pictures: quite a feat. Along the way, I’ve managed to miss several of his pictures, including his last, The Visit, regarded as something of a re-locating of his footing in the low budget horror arena. Split continues that genre readjustment, another Blumhouse production, one that also manages to bridge the gap with the fare that made him famous. But it’s a thematically uneasy film, marrying shlock and serious subject matter in ways that don’t always quite gel.

Shyamalan has seized on a horror staple – nubile teenage girls in peril, prey to a psychotic antagonist – and, no doubt with the best intentions, attempted to warp it. But, in so doing, he has dragged in themes and threads from other, more meritable fare, with the consequence that, in the end, the conflicting positions rather subvert his attempts at subversion…

My name is Dr. King Schultz, this is my valet, Django, and these are our horses, Fritz, and Tony.

Django Unchained (2012)
(MINOR SPOILERS) Since the painful misstep of Grindhouse/Death Proof, Quentin Tarantino has regained the higher ground like never before. Pulp Fiction, his previous commercial and critical peak, has been at very least equalled by the back-to-back hits of Inglourious Basterds and Django Unchained. Having been underwhelmed by his post Pulp Fiction efforts (albeit, I admired his technical advances as a director in Kill Bill), I was pleasantly surprised by Inglourious Basterds. It was no work of genius (so not Pulp Fiction) by any means, but there was a gleeful irreverence in its treatment of history and even to the nominal heroic status of its titular protagonists. Tonally, it was a good fit for the director’s “cool” aesthetic. As a purveyor of postmodern pastiche, where the surface level is the subtext, in some ways he was operating at his zenith. Django Unchained is a retreat from that position, the director caught in the tug between his all-important aesthetic pr…

I don’t think you will see President Pierce again.

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs (2018)
(SPOILERS) The Ballad of Buster Scruggs and other tall tales of the American frontier is the title of "the book" from which the Coen brothers' latest derives, and so announces itself as fiction up front as heavily as Fargo purported to be based on a true story. In the world of the portmanteau western – has there even been one before? – theme and content aren't really all that distinct from the more familiar horror collection, and as such, these six tales rely on sudden twists or reveals, most of them revolving around death. And inevitably with the anthology, some tall tales are stronger than other tall tales, the former dutifully taking up the slack.

Can you float through the air when you smell a delicious pie?

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018)
(SPOILERS) Ironically, given the source material, think I probably fell into the category of many who weren't overly disposed to give this big screen Spider-Man a go on the grounds that it was an animation. After all, if it wasn’t "good enough" for live-action, why should I give it my time? Not even Phil Lord and Christopher Miller's pedigree wholly persuaded me; they'd had their stumble of late, although admittedly in that live-action arena. As such, it was only the near-unanimous critics' approval that swayed me, suggesting I'd have been missing out. They – not always the most reliable arbiters of such populist fare, which made the vote of confidence all the more notable – were right. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is not only a first-rate Spider-Man movie, it's a fresh, playful and (perhaps) surprisingly heartfelt origins story.

You look like an angry lizard!

Bohemian Rhapsody (2018)
(SPOILERS) I can quite see a Queen fan begrudging this latest musical biopic for failing to adhere to the facts of their illustrious career – but then, what biopic does steer a straight and true course? – making it ironic that they're the main fuel for Bohemian Rhapsody's box office success. Most other criticisms – and they're legitimate, on the whole – fall away in the face of a hugely charismatic star turn from Rami Malek as the band's frontman. He's the difference between a standard-issue, episodic, join-the-dots narrative and one that occasionally touches greatness, and most importantly, carries emotional heft.

I'm a sort of travelling time expert.

Doctor Who Season 12 – Worst to Best
Season 12 isn’t the best season of Doctor Who by any means, but it’s rightly recognised as one of the most iconic, and it’s easily one of the most watchable. Not so much for its returning roster of monsters – arguably, only one of them is in finest of fettle – as its line-up of TARDIS crew members. Who may be fellow travellers, but they definitely aren’t “mates”. Thank goodness. Its popularity – and the small matters of it being the earliest season held in its entirety in original broadcast form, and being quite short – make it easy to see why it was picked for the first Blu-ray boxset.

Must the duck be here?

The Favourite (2018)
(SPOILERS) In my review of The Killing of a Sacred Deer, I suggested The Favourite might be a Yorgos Lanthimos movie for those who don’t like Yorgos Lanthimos movies. At least, that’s what I’d heard. And certainly, it’s more accessible than either of his previous pictures, the first two thirds resembling a kind of Carry On Up the Greenaway, but despite these broader, more slapstick elements and abundant caustic humour, there’s a prevailing detachment on the part of the director, a distancing oversight that rather suggests he doesn’t feel very much for his subjects, no matter how much they emote, suffer or connive. Or pratfall.

There's something wrong with the sky.

Hold the Dark (2018)
(SPOILERS) Hold the Dark, an adaptation of William Giraldi's 2014 novel, is big on atmosphere, as you'd expect from director Jeremy Saulnier (Blue Ruin, Green Room) and actor-now-director (I Don’t Want to Live in This World Anymore) pal Macon Blair (furnishing the screenplay and appearing in one scene), but contrastingly low on satisfying resolutions. Being wilfully oblique can be a winner if you’re entirely sure what you're trying to achieve, but the effect here is rather that it’s "for the sake of it" than purposeful.

I don’t know if what is happening is fair, but it’s the only thing I can think of that’s close to justice.

The Killing of a Sacred Deer (2017)
(SPOILERS) I think I knew I wasn’t going to like The Killing of a Sacred Deer in the first five minutes. And that was without the unedifying sight of open-heart surgery that takes up the first four. Yorgos Lanthimos is something of a Marmite director, and my responses to this and his previous The Lobster (which I merely thought was “okay” after exhausting its thin premise) haven’t induced me to check out his earlier work. Of course, he has now come out with a film that, reputedly, even his naysayers will like, awards-darling The Favourite