Wednesday, September 3, 2014

A Ghoul Versus Liam Neeson's Non-Stop (Part 1)

We are now boarding flight 117 to London, we will be seating any families with children, those needing additional assistance, and any madmen with nonsensical master plans first.”

Today I'm going to review Non-Stop, which once again unites Liam “The Man” Neeson and Jaume “How The Hell Do You Pronounce My Name?” Collet-Serra in ass kicking bliss. You may remember their first effort, the underwhelming Unknown, which will forever be known as the film that launched the Ghoul Meme: “Don't Fuck With Diane Kruger”.

Sadly she's not in this one to save the film, so we're going to have to rely on the always awesome Julianne Moore. Did you know she's 53 years old? She obviously drinks from the same enchanted spring of eternal youth that Tom Cruise and Keanu Reeves drink from- wait, there's no Keanu films on this blog yet? That's CERTAINLY going to have to change soon!

Just like Unknown, we have two great actors paired with a director who I'd say is pretty competent, so will this mean a highly engaging and tense thriller or a somewhat interesting movie that gradually buckles under the weight of its own premise? Grab a pistol and an air sickness bag as we get ready for A Ghoul Versus Liam Neeson's Non-Stop!

Our film opens with a very weary Liam Neeson getting drunk in his car outside of an airport, mulling the fact that he's in yet another dreary looking film where he's going to have to shoot a bunch of people. He glances up at a photo of a little girl on his visor, loving touching it with his finger so we can get he loves his daughter very much like we wouldn't have already guessed that by the fact this is a Liam Neeson movie. He gets out and heads toward the airport, glancing at numerous people along the way. How come all the creepy guys who stare in real life NEVER look like Liam Neeson?

A man with glasses tries to make small talk with him about his destination, but Neeson barely acknowledges him. Neeson makes his way through the security lines, the guard checking his passport so we can learn his name is William Marks. As he waits to be waived through, he stares at a Middle Eastern looking man because this is a post-9/11 film and a shot of this nature is required by law if you're making an airplane movie.

Heading towards his gate, he now makes note of the ageless Julianne Moore arguing with a flight attendant over her seat. I now understand the title of this movie: it's him staring at people NON-STOP! She's boring though so he turns his gaze back to the Middle Eastern man, as the intercom announces their flight to London will now begin boarding.

Julianne sits next to him and orders a drink from the flight attendant, which William happily copies because he is very pro-booze. The flight attendant, Nancy, makes her way to the back to get their drinks where she meets another attendant named Gwen, who is played by superstar in the making and bane of spell checks everywhere, Lupita Nyong'o. Nancy asks the pilots if they want anything as we learn she has a thing going with the co-pilot Kyle Rice, thanks to a subtle glance and a comment by the captain, David McMillan. Well done movie, THAT'S the definition of show, don't tell.

Nancy brings Julianne her gin and tonic but William only gets water, commenting it's not his lucky day. For some reason, I think this JUST might be a bit of ironic foreshadowing. He gets a text that is simply “Status?”, William replying they are a go. I'm guessing he's the air marshal which would explain why he's been checking out every passenger, but how awesome would it be if HE was the terrorist and the Middle Eastern man was the air marshal? I want to see that movie!

Julianne introduces herself as Jen, and William replies his name is Bill. Yay for short names to type! The plane starts taking off, Bill very nervous by the whole thing and wrapping a ribbon his daughter made him around his hand for good luck. Jen calms him down by getting him to talk about his daughter, who is named Olivia and now is seventeen, which immediately makes me wonder why he doesn't have a current photo of her. Hmm...

When Bill asks Jen about herself, she immediately clams up and announces she's going to get some sleep. That's not suspicious AT ALL, nope, not even a little bit. Later Bill heads into the bathroom where he puts duct tape over the smoke alarm and lights up a cigarette, as we learn he is indeed an air marshal because we see him set his badge and gun on the shelf. He returns to his seat, getting another text. This one asks him if he's ready to do his duty, and when he asks who this is, the answer is one of the passengers. Bill replies that breaching the network is a federal offense, getting a reply text that so is smoking in the bathroom. HA! That shut you up, Bill.

Bill takes a stroll around the plane to see if anyone's on their phone, getting another message instructing him to set his watch for twenty minutes. This is done with a text message overlaying on the actual frame, which is a weird directorial decision to say the least. It comes off looking like a high class advertisement that you'd see in an airplane magazine. Bill asks why, learning his mystery texter is going to kill someone on the plane at that time if he doesn't get $150 million dollars wired to an enclosed account number.

Bill texts back asking how he's supposed to do that, the text pop-up even doing his auto-correct for him. They've REALLY committed to this bizarre storytelling format, which unfortunately isn't building a hint of tension for me. Watching a murderous version of Pop Up Video does not a thriller make. Texter tells him to a have a drink a figure it out, as we see Jen has woken up and is watching him with great interest.

But lest we think she's the mastermind behind this, the film shows us a couple of shady looking guys also looking around. One of them, a man in a gray suit , heads to the back where Brian confronts him over the texts. It turns out the man, Jack Hammond, is ALSO an air marshal and Bill thinks he's messing with him. Jack proves he's not by showing Bill his text history, which is absent of death threats.

As this constitutes a threat to a plane, Bill wants the flight to land immediately. Jack dismisses this, thinking it's just someone playing a joke on him and then brings up his drinking problem. He asks the exact same question I had when I saw this movie's trailer: how do you kill somebody aboard a crowded plane and get away with it? I like this guy!

Refusing to let it go, Bill goes to talk to the pilots. They side with him, but they're over the Atlantic Ocean at this point so there's nowhere to land. Bill recruits Nancy and Jen to help him keep an eye on the passengers, choosing Jen as she was next to him when the texts started so she has to be innocent. He situates them in front of the security cameras, asking them to watch anyone who is one their phone when he sends a text. They get a list of a half dozen passengers, Jack among them.

The airplane's phone starts ringing, Philip Marenick of the TSA on the other end and asking to speak with Bill. He thinks Bill is overstepping his authority and won't act until he gets confirmation with Jack. While this is going on, the texter keeps messaging Bill and finally asks how is daughter is. Jen points out Jack's actions are matching the exact timing of Bill's texts.

Bill confronts Jack on his way to the bathroom, Jack admitting he needs the money and can cut Bill in. They break into a close quarters fight, which at least gives the film an excuse as to why the camera is basically shoved into the actors' backs so we can't tell who is hitting who. Jack grabs his gun, forcing Bill to snap his neck to defend himself. This coincides with Bill's alarm going off, as twenty minutes has now passed. Damn, now THERE'S some convenient timing!

Locking Jack's body in the bathroom, Bill ominously gets another text. It says “Sorry you had to do that, Bill”, and then tells him to reset his timer for another twenty minutes. He signs off imploring Bill to get the money, because he'll have to kill someone again. Bill returns to the cockpit, where David reveals they ran a trace on the account number and it's in BILL'S name. David asks if anything happened when the twenty minutes were up, Bill lying and saying nothing.

David then says Agent Marenick is running the investigation from Washington DC, ordering Bill to turn in his badge and gun. Bill does without throwing a fit, as he still has Jack's gun so no big there. Jack's gun looks MUCH cooler anyway. Personally, I'm bummed as this means we are deprived of Liam Neeson with Dual Wielding Action.

Bill takes out Jack's phone, which was damaged in their fight, and starts going through it. The movie even reproduces the cracks in its screen on the pop-ups, which is so silly I laughed out loud. This is yet another movie that couldn't have been made twenty years ago as the entire plot is dependent upon modern day technology.

The texts show the texter first contacted Jack right after texting Bill, telling him he knows what's in his briefcase and demanding he meet with him in the back of the plane. Intrigued, Bill retrieves Jack's briefcase and finds it contains what is known as a “Lohan-sized” bag of cocaine. He is interrupted by Nancy, forced to show her Jack's body. She naturally freaks out and tries to run, but he grabs her and explains everything he knows.

He decides the only thing he can do is pretend the airplane is being subjected to a random search for weapons, announcing this over the intercom. The pilots hear this and call back to the airport, reporting this as a hijacking. Bill searches the passengers Nancy and Jen circled earlier, but comes up empty handed. He does notice the man with glasses who tried to talk to him in the beginning, remembering he said he was flying to Amsterdam and not London, so he grabs him to talk. Marenick calls again to command Bill to stand down, but this order is obeyed as well as can be expected.

Bill interrogates his suspect, Tom Bowen, learning he was paid by the texter to find out where Bill's flight was headed. Tom identifies the man as having a European accent and having brown hair, but doesn't see him on the plane anywhere. Seeing there's less than a minute left, Bill pulls out his gun and gets ready for something to happen as he gets another text. This one declares the target isn't a passenger, as Bill realizes he must mean the flight crew and starts running toward Nancy.

Then... the gravity goes to hell and he slams into the ceiling. The hell? Is the texter a wizard? Bill rushes to the cockpit where Kyle is standing over a convulsing David, saying he just collapsed over the steering yoke which explains the sudden deceleration of the plane. David dies, the texter taunting Bill some more as he angrily resets the timer on his watch again. Bill has the Middle Eastern man, Fahim Nasir, whom he learned was a doctor while searching him, take a look at David's body. Fahim concludes he was poisoned.

After clearing Kyle in the murder, Bill calls Marenick to tell him the bad news and begs him to transfer the money to the account. Marenick refuses, as that'd be negotiating with a terrorist and that's a major no-no. Bill walks by Jen, who is chatting with a nearby passenger she introduces as Zack. Zack JUST HAPPENS to be a former smart phone programmer who has an idea to somehow send a virus from Bill phone to the texter's phone that'll make it ring through the magic of HACKING! Bill needs it done within eight minutes before the next murder, giving Zack space by clearing out the business class section and moving everyone to coach.

But there's ANOTHER complication, as Bill looks out the window and notices the plane is turning. He goes to Kyle to see what the hell is going on, learning Kyle has taken orders from Marenick to land the plane at the nearest location AND shut the cellular network down. Bill asks him for five minutes for Zack can do his smart phone sorcery, Kyle reluctantly agreeing to this.

I really think we need more spinning plates in this movie. My prayers are answered as an NYPD cop is organizing other passengers in a revolt against Bill, as they believe HE'S a terrorist hijacking the plane. This is in NO WAY an allusion to 9/11, why would you even think that? Bill comes out and has everyone in the plane raise their hands above their head and he sends the virus to the texter's phone. The phone of one of the men involved in the mutiny starts ringing, claiming he's never seen that phone before as Bill takes it from him.

Bill takes him into business class to talk to him, but HE dies of poisoning before Bill can discover anything. Bill's alarm goes off, right on cue. I REALLY can't wait to hear the explanation for how the texter is doing this, I'm hoping this actually turns out to be a stealth sequel for Saw 14 or whatever number that series is now up to. Bill goes into the bathroom for a smoke as the cop starts raising the troops.

The movie finally throws Bill a frickin' bone as he realizes his cigarette smoke is being sucked into the paper towel dispenser, taking it off the wall and finding a small hole into the cockpit. Searching the garbage, he finds two small metallic syringe looking devices. He investigates the dead man's body, finding a needle tip buried in his chest. Alright, now things are starting to finally get ridiculous. How would you not notice getting stabbed with a needle?

He tracks down an older woman who he saw enter the bathroom earlier, asking if she noticed anyone use it after her. She says Jen did, so Bill questions her about this but determines she's innocent. We cut to the passengers, who are watching a news report about Bill's attempted terrorism. That's REALLY going to endear him to them now. Bill and Jen take a look at the texter's phone, which initiates a countdown of thirty minutes. Bill tells Jen to go back to coach to start searching the bags of everyone, as he believes this to be a bomb timer. He calls Marenick to update him, but Marenick ignores all of this and tells him the plane will be shot down if he tries to land it before the designated landing point.

Click here for Part 2!