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

What ho, Brinkley. So, do you think we’re going to get along, what?

Jeeves and Wooster 2.4: Jeeves in the Country  (aka Chuffy)
The plundering of Thank You, Jeeves elicits two more of the series’ best episodes, the first of which finds Bertie retiring to the country with a new valet, the insolent, incompetent and inebriate Brinkley (a wonderfully sour, sullen performance from Fred Evans, who would receive an encore in the final season), owing to Jeeves being forced to resign over his master’s refusal to give up the trumpet (“not an instrument for a gentleman”; in the book, it’s a banjulele).

Chuffnall Hall is the setting (filmed at Wrotham Park in Hertfordshire), although the best of the action takes place around Bertie’s digs in Chuffnall Regis (Clovelly, Devon), which old pal Reginald “Chuffy” Chuffnell (Marmaduke Lord Chuffnell) has obligingly rented him, much to the grievance of the villagers, who have to endure his trumpeting disrupting the beatific beach (it’s a lovely spot, one of the most evocative in the series).

Jeeves is snapped up into the e…

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…

Exit bear, pursued by an actor.

Paddington 2 (2017)
(SPOILERS) Paddington 2 is every bit as upbeat and well-meaning as its predecessor. It also has more money thrown at it, a much better villain (an infinitely better villain) and, in terms of plotting, is more developed, offering greater variety and a more satisfying structure. Additionally, crucially, it succeeds in offering continued emotional heft and heart to the Peruvian bear’s further adventures. It isn’t, however, quite as funny.

Even suggesting such a thing sounds curmudgeonly, given the universal applause greeting the movie, but I say that having revisited the original a couple of days prior and found myself enjoying it even more than on first viewing. Writer-director Paul King and co-writer Simon Farnaby introduce a highly impressive array of set-ups with huge potential to milk their absurdity to comic ends, but don’t so much squander as frequently leave them undertapped.

Paddington’s succession of odd jobs don’t quite escalate as uproariously as they migh…

Angry man is unsecure.

Hulk (2003)
(SPOILERS) I’m not a Hulk apologist. I unreservedly consider it one of the superior superhero adaptations, admittedly more for the visual acumen Ang Lee brings to the material than James Schamus, Michael France and John Turman’s screenplay. But even then, if the movie gets bogged down in unnecessarily overwrought father-son origins and dynamic, overlaid on a perfectly good and straightforward core story (one might suggest it was change for the sake of change), once those alterations are in place, much of the follow through, and the paralleling of wayward parents and upright children, or vice versa, translates effectively to the screen, even if the realisation of the big green fella is somewhat variable.

‘Cos I’m the gringo who always delivers.

American Made (2017)
(SPOILERS) This is definitely more the sort of thing Tom Cruise should be doing, a movie that relies both on his boyish™ charm and at least has pretensions of ever so slightly pushing the envelope of standard multiplex fare, rather than desperately attaching himself to an impersonal franchise (The Mummy) or flailingly attempting to kick start one (Jack Reacher: Never Go Back); remember when Cruise wouldn’t even go near sequels (for about 20 years, The Color of Money aside, and then only the one series)? American Made is still victim to the tendency of his movies to feel superstar-fitted rather than remaining as punchy as they might be on paper (Made’s never quite as satirically sharp as it wants to be), but it at least doesn’t lead its audience by the nose.

I do… very competitive ice dancing.

Justice League (2017)
(SPOILERS) Superheroes, and superhero movies, trade in hyperbole, so it shouldn’t be surprising that DC’s two releases this year have been responded to in like, only each at opposite ends of the spectrum. Wonder Woman was insanely over-praised in the rush to fete a female superhero finally leading a movie, crushing all nuanced criticism in its wake. Justice League, meanwhile, has been lambasted on the basis that it’s more of the same as Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, only worse – to the extent there have been calls for a Zach Snyder Director’s Cut, which is quite an extent, as extents go – as it’s guilty of being an unholy clash of styles, grimdark Zach scowling in one corner and quip-happy Joss pirouetting in the other. And yes, the movie is consequently a mess, but it’s a relatively painless mess, with the sense to get in and get out again before the viewer has enough time to assess the full extent of the damage.

You’re never the same man twice.

The Man Who Haunted Himself (1970)
(SPOILERS) Roger Moore playing dual roles? It sounds like an unintentionally amusing prospect for audiences accustomed to the actor’s “Raise an eyebrow” method of acting. Consequently, this post-Saint pre-Bond role (in which he does offer some notable eyebrow acting) is more of a curiosity for the quality of Sir Rog’s performance than the out-there premise that can’t quite sustain the picture’s running time. It is telling that the same story was adapted for an episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents 15 years earlier, since the uncanny idea at its core feels like a much better fit for a trim 50 minute anthology series.

Basil Dearden directs, and co-adapted the screenplay from Anthony Armstrong’s novel The Strange Case of Mr Pelham. Dearden started out with Ealing, helming several Will Hay pictures and a segment of Dead of Night (one might imagine a shortened version of this tale ending up there, or in any of the portmanteau horrors that arrived in the year…

You diabolical mastermind, you.

The Avengers Season 4 Ranked – Worst to Best
Season Four is generally held up as the pinnacle of The Avengers, and it certainly maintains the greatest level of consistency in the run. Nevertheless, as I noted a few reviews back, one viewer’s classic is another’s ho-hum with this show, perhaps because it doesn’t elicit the same kind of exhaustive fandom to establish any level of consensus as some series. There follows my Worst to Best ranking of the season, told mostly in pictures. The index for full episode reviews can be found here.

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…

Sometimes when you take people away, they don't come back.

The Ward (2010)
(SPOILERS) I’d felt no particular compunction to rush out and see The Ward (or rent it), partly down to the underwhelming reviews, but mostly because John Carpenter’s last few films had been so disappointing, and I doubted a decade away from the big screen would rejuvenate someone who’d rather play computer games than call the shots. Perhaps inevitably then, now I have finally given it a look, it’s a case of low expectations being at least surpassed. The Ward isn’t very good, but it isn’t outright bad either.

While it seems obvious in retrospect, I failed to guess the twist before it was revealed, probably because I was still expecting a supernatural element to be realised, it being a Carpenter movie. But then, this doesn’t feel very much like a Carpenter movie. It doesn’t have a Carpenter score (Mark Killian) or screenplay (Michael and Shawn Rasmussen) and it doesn’t have Gary B Kibbe as lenser (Yaron Orbach). I suspect the latter explains why it’s a much more professi…