Universal Pictures via Everett Collection
Seventeen years ago, Harrison Ford grumbled four simple words that defined a genre, a demographic, and a country: "Get off my plane." In a pre-9/11 world, there was no shortage of jingoistic glee in a movie like Air Force One, in which a man's man American president doled out justice to a militia of Russian loyalist terrorists who made the silly mistake of attempting to hijack his flight home from Moscow. In 2014, we don't have the luxury of facing a plotline like this with reckless merriment. There's a damp gravity to the premise behind movies like Non-Stop, which in another time would have been nothing more than Taken on a Plane. But rigidly conscious of the connotations that attach to a story about a hijacking of a civilian international flight into John F. Kennedy Airport in New York City, Non-Stop doesn't play too fast and loose. It still plays, and has some good fun doing so, but carefully.
From the getgo, we're anchored into the grim narrative of Liam Neeson's U.S. Air Marshall Bill Marks, who settles his demons with a healthy spoonful of whiskey. A dutiful officer even when liquored up, Marks eyeballs every nameless face in London's Heathrow Airport, silently introducing the bevvy of characters who'll come into play later on. After takeoff, Marks finds himself on the unwitting prowl for the anonymous party who's attempting to take down the red-eye through a series of manipulative text messages, well-timed threats, and clandestine killings. Chatty passenger Julianne Moore and flight attendant Michelle Dockery join Marks in his efforts to identify the mysterious criminal before the entire aircraft falls to his or her whims. So less Taken, more Murder, She Wrote.
Our roundup of suspects challenges our (and their) preconceived notions, and quite laughably — most vocal among Neeson's fellow passengers are a white beta-male school teacher (Scoot McNairy), a black computer engineer with an attitude of entitlement (Nate Parker), a softspoken Middle Eastern surgeon whose headwear gets more than a few focal shots (Omar Metwally), a middle-aged white businessman whose latest account landed him more than your house is worth (Frank Deal), an irate black youngster draped in irreverence (Corey Hawkins), and a white, bald, machismo-howling New York cop who secretly accepts his gay brother (Corey Stoll). Just a few talking heads short of Do the Right Thing, Non-Stop manages to goof on each man's (notice that they're all men — Moore, Dockery, and a barely-in-the-movie Lupita Nyong’o are kept shy of the action for most of the film) distaste for and distrust of one another as they each try to sidle up to, or undermine the harried Marks.
Non-Stop plays an interesting game with its characters and its audience, simultaneously painting the ignorance of its characters with a thick coat of comedy while pointing its finger straight out at us with accusations that we, too, thought it was whoever we just learned it wasn't, and for all the wrong reasons. "Shame on you!" Non-Stop chides, adding, "But let's keep going, this is fun!"
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It is fun — that's the miraculous thing. Without any "Get off my plane"s or "Yippee ki yay"s, Non-Stop keeps its action genre silliness in check (okay, there is a moment involving an airborne gun that'll institute some serious laugh-cheers), investing all of its good time in the game of claustrophobic Clue that we can't help but enjoy. It sacrifices some of its charm in a heavy-handed third act, tipping to one side of what was a pretty impressive balancing act up until that point. But its falter is not one that drags down the movie entirely. Fun and excitement are restored, sincerity is maintained, and even a few moments of sensitivity creep their way through. We might not live in a world of President Harrison Fords any longer, but Air Marshall Liam Neesons could actually be a step up.
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February 07, 2011 12:46pm EST
When a dramedy gets too sentimental it quickly becomes sappy but with the right balance – and the right actors – it can work well enough to entertain on multiple levels. Alexander Payne’s Sideways is a perfect example of tonal equality; bittersweet in every sense of the word but outright hilarious when the comedy gets going. I thought the best qualities of his direction would carry over into his latest production the recent Sundance entry Cedar Rapids. While his influence as producer is identifiable (particularly in its score) director Miguel Arteta (The Good Girl) made a more conventional film than I expected to see.
Our story begins in Brown Valley Wisconsin where the dignified Tim Lippe (Ed Helms) works lives and loves his former 7th Grade teacher (a dull Sigourney Weaver). When the top dog at the insurance company he works for dies it’s up to him to represent at a do-or-die insurance convention in Cedar Rapids Iowa a bustling metropolis compared to the small town he’s never left. Once there he befriends a pair of agents (Isaiah Whitlock Jr. and John C. Reilly) cavorts with another (Anne Heche) and parties with a local prostitute (Alia Shawkat). When it comes down to business however he learns quickly that the insurance racket isn’t the noble industry he once thought it was.
Though it has some heart the film doesn’t hit the funny bone like its trailer teased. The biggest laughs don’t come organically; instead Reilly’s crass Dean Ziegler (the best part of the movie) spews them from every orifice he exposes. Most of the other jokes are flat including the bulk of Helms’. Lippe’s naivety is all too reminiscent of Andy Bernard his beloved character on The Office and though you’d think that would be a good thing it just feels stale. Heche gives the best performance of all portraying a melancholy working mother who’s both vulnerable and independent but her character doesn’t have much effect on the narrative. The most fun comes via a series of supporting roles and cameo’s from the likes of Thomas Lennon Stephen Root Rob Corddry Kurtwood Smith and Mike O’Malley but none of them have enough screen time to leave a lasting impression.
Lack of humor aside the film suffers most from trying to tackle too many topics at once. Screenwriter Phil Johnston stuffs many themes into the 87-minute feature including the growth of the man-child (an indie cliché at this point) corporate corruption and separation of church and office but no single subject is developed enough to care about. Had the filmmakers stuck to their guns and delivered an all-out comedy be it conventional or quirky Cedar Rapids would be easier to endure.
Well the verdict is in: Jackass: Number Two is not soft-core. In fact the stunts are more vomit inducing than ever before which in the immortal word of Steve-O is rad! All of your favorite Jackasses are back for more um fun. That’s right--Johnny Knoxville Steve-O Bam Margera Chris Pontius Preston Lacy Ryan Dunn Jason 'Wee Man' Acuna and others have returned to again defy death and sober logic as they take on more elaborate stunts. The stunts this time around involve guns rockets ramps terrorism and animals but not to be forgotten are the fail-proof anatomical gags some of which involve said animals and all of which are too vulgar to reference in any way shape or form here. In summation: more of the same tom-Jackass-ery we’ve come to expect out of these borderline-sane skate-punk dudes. A lot’s changed since Jackass’ early days as an MTV show--most of these “actors”/circus freaks have since gone on to stardom--but all the Jackasses still share an undying love for hurting themselves. Aww. With Jackass the secret weapon has always been the disparate personalities: No two of these guys react the same to their own demise and frankly it’s hilarious. Truth is the commentary’s half the fun! Knoxville brims with charisma and pulls off the rare feat of endearing himself to the Jackass faithful even after having become a movie superstar. His drunken (sounding) laugh is infectious and yes the guy with the most to lose takes the biggest beatings and risks in this movie--how can you not love that?! Then there’s Steve-O whose trademark drawl could be mistaken for a stoned Fran Drescher; he’s the resident self-mutilation whiz. And Margera renowned for terrorizing his folks actually displays a soft side in Number Two (to say more would give away the twist). Cameos from directors Spike Jonze and John Waters Miami Dolphin Jason Taylor Dukes of Hazzard director Jay Chandrasekhar and more only add to the fun. Indeed everyone wants to be a Jackass! While hard to pinpoint clearly there is talent necessary somewhere to make Number Two succeed like it does. That talent likely comes from the behind-the-scenes troublemakers like writers Sean Cliver and Preston Lacy and director Jeff Tremaine the latter two of whom appear in Number Two. Neither the reactions of the Jackasses nor their spontaneity during the stunts are choreographed but it does take a lot of advance preparation--i.e. contingency plans a portable hospital and it would seem booze by the boatload to get the mania into full swing--for a single scene to work. Furthermore to think up such absurdly elaborate ideas is either very painstaking and difficult or very easy--as in watching-episodes-of-Tom-and-Jerry-and-Roadrunner easy. Paramount though to pulling off each and every sequence is getting it all in one take for obvious reasons and Tremaine and co. manage to pull that off like they do everything else.