Sunday, March 2, 2014

“Non-Stop” – Security Theater.

Allow me to rant for just a moment about the current state of security in this country. In short, it’s mostly an illusion. Just yesterday, in an attempt to “improve security,” the organizers of the Boston Marathon are banning backpacks, strollers, unregistered runners, containers with more than one liter of liquid, masks, bulky clothes, large flags, and signs larger than 11 inches x 17 inches from anywhere near the course. Here’s my favorite part of the new rules – “Any item larger than 5 inches x 15 inches x 5 inches. Please note: security at each location will have the authority to disallow other products or materials that it deems inappropriate.” Seriously – I made up none of that (click here for the official marathon site). My actual job in real life is in the security field and whenever I see something like this I die a little inside. These new rules don’t improve security whatsoever, especially when we’re talking about securing an area with a 26.2 mile race course. How delusional does one have to be to believe banning people from wearing masks reduces the chances of a bomb exploding? All this is is someone throwing up meaningless garbage in attempt to convince people that they have done something. Just read through that list again and tell me how any of that prevents the exact same thing from happening again? The only thing it accomplishes is making the race less fun and less comfortable for everybody involved and don’t be surprised if the Boston Marathon disappears in a couple of years because people can’t even push their babies in strollers within a certain distance of the race course, i.e. half of Boston. But, hey, now the organizers can say they tried. Don’t get me wrong, I want everybody to be safe, but unless the race organizers have invented personal force fields and will be handing them out at the race, nobody is any safer than they were before the bombing.

What does this have to do with Liam Neeson’s latest movie, Non-Stop? I’m glad you asked. Another illusion of security foisted on us is the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), otherwise known as “those guys who keep groping people and stealing our shit.” While nobody seems to understand (or want to admit) that a gunman or bomb could make it all the way to the security lines without going through any security checks whatsoever, most people believe they are safer than they were prior to 9/11 because TSA is on the job (for the record, I have nothing against the agents at the airports; they’re just doing their job – well, except for those that aren’t) when the truth is the danger has just shifted to another location. Another part of the “enhanced security” following 9/11 was increasing the number of Federal Air Marshals from 33 to approximately 4,000 today. That’s not a typo. Maybe they’ve helped and maybe they haven’t (read about some good and bad incidents and it’s pretty much a wash), but how good do you feel about a situation in which a Marshal draws his weapon and fires in plane full of passengers during turbulence? It kind of begs the question “isn’t that why we invented stun guns?” But I digress.

In Non-Stop, Neeson is Air Marshal Bill Marks, assigned to duty on board a flight from New York City to London. For screenwriting reasons that are both pointless and amateur, Marks is an alcoholic who is divorced, lost his previous job as a police officer, and is living in guilt from not having spent enough time with his now dead-from-cancer eight year-old daughter. I guess they thought adding “home burned down with the family dog inside” was too much. What wasn’t too much was putting a second air marshal on the flight and making sure that the audience knows that every member of the flight crew is well aware of Marks’ drinking problem. They even throw in a quick scene where Marks is arguing with a superior about having to stay in London for several days. All of this was done to try to set up Marks as an unstable, desperate man; the loose cannon, if you will, for the main plot.

Shortly into the flight, Marks starts receiving text messages on a “secure network” warning him that someone on the plane is going to die every twenty minutes unless $150 million dollars is deposited into an offshore bank account. Marks accuses the other air marshal of playing a prank, then refuses to follow protocol when they realize it’s not a hoax. After the first person is killed, we’re the closest we will ever be to believing Marks is perpetrating the whole thing (the first wave of previews goes out of its way to convince you Marks might be responsible), which is to say not even a little bit. This is where the movie, and more specifically the writing, fails in just about every way possible. Part of the killer’s plot is to frame Marks for the murders and perceived hijacking, and the characters sure believe it at one point, but nothing that happens convinces the audience that it’s even a possibility. The only thing you will be convinced of is that Liam Neeson is going to kick somebody’s ass at some point.

The problem with the writing and story is that they never really commit to anything. Aside from the angle of framing Marks, there’s a ham-fisted and overt commentary on “big brother” and government abuse of power, which doesn’t play well because he’s trying to stop a killer. This isn’t like the NSA collecting data “just in case;” this is an immediate and established threat, though Marks never reveals this information until he’s forced to. The story also tries to mimic the classic “whodunit” motif by establishing several characters, but falls flat because none of the characters are developed and the motivation isn’t even hinted at until it’s revealed. It’s almost as if the writers intended on committing to Marks as the likely killer, but accidentally indicated several characters instead because they were too busy arguing about which is worse, Fox News or MSNBC, to write anything intelligent (by the way, the answer to the argument is all of the above).

The biggest problem with the movie is that the motivation is about as weak as you can possibly imagine. Also weak is the complete waste of Julianne Moore (another passenger) and Michelle Dockery (Mary from Downton Abbey) as flight attendant. Moore is there mostly to call Marks a dick (literally) and Dockery’s job is to be British and make different facial expressions when the situation calls for it. Much like Marks’ alcoholism, neither character is important to plot, wasting the considerable talent of the two actresses.

At this point, I can’t imagine why you would be interested in seeing this film, but I don’t want you to think it was terrible. From an action-thriller standpoint, it serves its purpose and does a fair job of building tension and hiding the identity of the killer. The acting and special effects are adequate and at least one bit of airplane physics is shown accurately. The movie won’t blow you away, but it probably won’t make you angry either. All it will do is make you question the need for the “enhanced security” by trying to make the point that nothing has really changed except that if you want to watch the Boston Marathon, your baby will have to walk.

Rating: Ask for seven dollars back and a rethinking of that “enhanced security.”

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