I’m going to try my best to resist making a pun out of this movie’s title. It’s just so hard when it’s called “Nonstop.” There are so many possibilities. I’ll do my best.
Bill Marks (Liam Neeson) is a self-destructive alcoholic air marshal who hates flying, and he is really not looking forward to a six-hour flight from New York to London. But as bad as his assignment sounds, it gets far worse when he starts receiving anonymous text messages over a secured federal network threatening to kill a passenger in 20 minutes unless $150 million is wired into an account.
The other air marshal on board (Anson Mount) doesn’t believe the threat is real, even after he himself fulfills the eerie prophecy.
Alone and facing the threat of another death in 20 minutes, Marks has to try to find who onboard is orchestrating the threats, trusting only one flight attendant, Nancy (Michelle Dockery), and his cheery seat neighbor, Jen (Julianne Moore). His job gets harder when the bank account the money was supposed to be wired into is in his name, and videos uploaded by the passengers of his investigation cut him out to be a hijacker.
If you think “Nonstop” sounds like a mashup of “Taken,” “Air Force One” and “The Forgotten” (for the paranoia and Julianne Moore), you’re right. Everything you’re expecting from Liam Neeson being an ace operative in the sky will happen — eventually.
The plot starts out pretty slow, with Marks looking solemnly at different people and things in a haze, all to establish how damaged he is. It’s not until the second half that we get to see any real action (besides one hard-to-follow fight scene in a lavatory), and it’s down to the last 15 minutes or so before we see any actual stunts. It is enough, though, to make up for any dragging in the first half.
“Nonstop” tries to connect with viewers by exploiting a good number of fears many people have about flying in our post-terrorist attack age: lingering suspicion about Middle Eastern men on flights, someone trying to make another 9/11 and, as always, potentially sitting by someone weird. I have to admit, though, my biggest takeaway from the passengers was, “Wait, I can text while flying now?” I do have to give “Nonstop” credit for effectively spreading suspicion around the cabin like they’re playing Hot Potato, and there are enough red herrings to feed the entire cast and crew.
Neeson’s overwhelmed and under-resourced marshal is also pretty believable, given the highly improbable circumstances under which he is working. Moore seems more excited to be working with Neeson than he is with her, but we can say it’s just her extra-chipper character.
The biggest problem for me wasn’t the pacing or Neeson’s obligatory difficult backstory. My problem is that I clearly think too much about things. Do not think too much about this film. Do not think about all the logistics that would have to be managed and the extremely improbable coincidences that would have to occur for this whole thing to play out exactly like it does. Seriously, don’t.
But I did. And I can’t stop. My scumbag brain latched onto one plot hole and now it won’t stop until it finds every other plot hole and tries to explain them. It’s driving me crazy. My brain actually itches. I can feel it. It’s way worse than any other itch, too, because even when you have a horrible itch right in the middle of your shoulderblades, you can borrow a friend or a cactus to scratch it. There’s no hope for the underside of my parietal and occipital lobes. This is my life now.
But if you think you can manage to not overthink the plot and don’t mind a few leaps in logic, you could do worse. “Nonstop” may not be nonstop action or fun (whoops), but it’s not a complete waste of time, either.