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.


***

Popular posts from this blog

I’m smarter than a beaver.

Prey (2022) (SPOILERS) If nothing else, I have to respect Dan Trachtenberg’s cynical pragmatism. How do I not only get a project off the ground, but fast-tracked as well? I know, a woke Predator movie! Woke Disney won’t be able to resist! And so, it comes to pass. Luckily for Prey , it gets to bypass cinemas and so the same sorry fate of Lightyear . Less fortunately, it’s a patience-testing snook cocking at historicity (or at least, assumed historicity), in which a young, pint-sized Comanche girl who wishes to hunt and fish – and doubtless shoot to boot – with the big boys gets to take on a Predator and make mincemeat of him. Well, of course , she does. She’s a girl, innit?

If you ride like lightning, you're going to crash like thunder.

The Place Beyond the Pines (2012) (SPOILERS) There’s something daringly perverse about the attempt to weave a serious-minded, generation-spanning saga from the hare-brained premise of The Place Beyond the Pines . When he learns he is a daddy, a fairground stunt biker turns bank robber in order to provide for his family. It’s the kind of “only-in-Hollywood” fantasy premise you might expect from a system that unleashed Harley Davidson and the Marlboro Man and Point Break on the world. But this is an indie-minded movie from the director of the acclaimed Blue Valentine ; it demands respect and earnest appraisal. Unfortunately it never recovers from the abject silliness of the set-up. The picture is littered with piecemeal characters and scenarios. There’s a hope that maybe the big themes will even out the rocky terrain but in the end it’s because of this overreaching ambition that the film ends up so undernourished. The inspiration for the movie

Everyone creates the thing they dread.

Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015) (SPOILERS) Avengers: Age of Ultron ’s problem isn’t one of lack. It benefits from a solid central plot. It features a host of standout scenes and set pieces. It hands (most of) its characters strong defining moments. It doesn’t even suffer now the “wow” factor of seeing the team together for the first time has subsided. Its problem is that it’s too encumbered. Maybe its asking to much of a director to effectively martial the many different elements required by an ensemble superhero movie such as this, yet Joss Whedon’s predecessor feels positively lean in comparison. Part of this is simply down to the demands of the vaster Marvel franchise machine. Seeds are laid for Captain America: Civil War , Infinity Wars I & II , Black Panther and Thor: Ragnarok . It feels like several spinning plates too many. Such activity occasionally became over-intrusive on previous occasions ( Iron Man II ), but there are points in Age of Ultron whe

This entire edifice you see around you, built on jute.

Jeeves and Wooster 3.3: Cyril and the Broadway Musical  (aka Introduction on Broadway) Well, that’s a relief. After a couple of middling episodes, the third season bounces right back, and that's despite Bertie continuing his transatlantic trip. Clive Exton once again plunders  Carry On, Jeeves  but this time blends it with a tale from  The Inimitable Jeeves  for the brightest spots, as Cyril Basington-Basington (a sublimely drippy Nicholas Hewetson) pursues his stage career against Aunt Agatha's wishes.

I’m the famous comedian, Arnold Braunschweiger.

Last Action Hero (1993) (SPOILERS) Make no mistake, Last Action Hero is a mess. But even as a mess, it might be more interesting than any other movie Arnie made during that decade, perhaps even in his entire career. Hellzapoppin’ (after the 1941 picture, itself based on a Broadway revue) has virtually become an adjective to describe films that comment upon their own artifice, break the fourth wall, and generally disrespect the convention of suspending disbelief in the fictions we see parading across the screen. It was fairly audacious, some would say foolish, of Arnie to attempt something of that nature at this point in his career, which was at its peak, rather than playing it safe. That he stumbled profoundly, emphatically so since he went up against the behemoth that is Jurassic Park (slotted in after the fact to open first), should not blind one to the considerable merits of his ultimate, and final, really, attempt to experiment with the limits of his screen persona.

I think it’s pretty clear whose side the Lord’s on, Barrington.

Monte Carlo or Bust aka  Those Daring Young Men in Their Jaunty Jalopies (1969) (SPOILERS) Ken Annakin’s semi-sequel to Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines tends to be rather maligned, usually compared negatively to its more famous predecessor. Which makes me rather wonder if those expressing said opinion have ever taken the time to scrutinise them side by side. Or watch them back to back (which would be more sensible). Because Monte Carlo or Bust is by far the superior movie. Indeed, for all its imperfections and foibles (not least a performance from Tony Curtis requiring a taste for comic ham), I adore it. It’s probably the best wacky race movie there is, simply because each set of competitors, shamelessly exemplifying a different national stereotype (albeit there are two pairs of Brits, and a damsel in distress), are vibrant and cartoonish in the best sense. Albeit, it has to be admitted that, as far as said stereotypes go, Annakin’s home side win

Death to Bill and Ted!

Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey (1991) (SPOILERS) The game of how few sequels are actually better than the original is so well worn, it was old when Scream 2 made a major meta thing out of it (and it wasn’t). Bill & Ted Go to Hell , as Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey was originally called, is one such, not that Excellent Adventure is anything to be sneezed at, but this one’s more confident, even more playful, more assured and more smartly stupid. And in Peter Hewitt it has a director with a much more overt and fittingly cartoonish style than the amiably pedestrian Stephen Herrick. Evil Bill : First, we totally kill Bill and Ted. Evil Ted : Then we take over their lives. My recollection of the picture’s general consensus was that it surpassed the sleeper hit original, but Rotten Tomatoes’ review aggregator suggests a less universal response. And, while it didn’t rock any oceans at the box office, Bogus Journey and Point Break did quite nicely for Keanu Reev

Just because you are a character doesn't mean that you have character.

Pulp Fiction (1994) (SPOILERS) From a UK perspective, Pulp Fiction ’s success seemed like a fait accompli; Reservoir Dogs had gone beyond the mere cult item it was Stateside and impacted mainstream culture itself (hard to believe now that it was once banned on home video); it was a case of Tarantino filling a gap in the market no one knew was there until he drew attention to it (and which quickly became over-saturated with pale imitators subsequently). Where his debut was a grower, Pulp Fiction hit the ground running, an instant critical and commercial success (it won the Palme d’Or four months before its release), only made cooler by being robbed of the Best Picture Oscar by Forrest Gump . And unlike some famously-cited should-have-beens, Tarantino’s masterpiece really did deserve it.

Poetry in translation is like taking a shower with a raincoat on.

Paterson (2016) (SPOILERS) Spoiling a movie where nothing much happens is difficult, but I tend to put the tag on in a cautionary sense much of the time. Paterson is Jim Jarmusch at his most inert and ambient but also his most rewardingly meditative. Paterson (Adam Driver), a bus driver and modest poet living in Paterson, New Jersey, is a stoic in a fundamental sense, and if he has a character arc of any description, which he doesn’t really, it’s the realisation that is what he is. Jarmusch’s picture is absent major conflict or drama; the most significant episodes feature Paterson’s bus breaking down, the English bull terrier Marvin – whom Paterson doesn’t care for but girlfriend Laura (Golshifteh Farahani) dotes on – destroying his book of poetry, and an altercation at the local bar involving a gun that turns out to be a water pistol. And Paterson takes it all in his stride, genial to the last, even the ruination of his most earnest, devoted work (the only disappoint

Piece by piece, the camel enters the couscous.

The Forgiven (2021) (SPOILERS) By this point, the differences between filmmaker John Michael McDonagh and his younger brother, filmmaker and playwright Martin McDonagh, are fairly clearly established. Both wear badges of irreverence and provocation in their writing, and a willingness to tackle – or take pot-shots – at bigger issues, ones that may find them dangling their toes in hot water. But Martin receives the lion’s share of the critical attention, while John is generally recognised as the slightly lesser light. Sure, some might mistake Seven Psychopaths for a John movie, and Calvary for a Martin one, but there’s a more flagrant sense of attention seeking in John’s work, and concomitantly less substance. The Forgiven is clearly aiming more in the expressly substantial vein of John’s earlier Calvary, but it ultimately bears the same kind of issues in delivery.