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!"
The best player in the World for movie trailers, Hollywood interviews and movie clips.
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.
Follow @Michael Arbeiter
| Follow @Hollywood_com
Relativity Media via Everett Collection
It's easy to compare 3 Days to Kill to Luc Besson's flagship franchise Taken. The film itself practically encourages those comparisons, what with the older man who reluctantly returns to a life of killing for the good of his daughter. The hero's quest of hunting down international criminals in a stunning foreign locale is punctuated by all of the explosions and gore your heart could desire. Neither 3 Days screenwriter Besson nor director McG are attempting to blaze a trail or reinvent a wheel. They're simply attempting to create a film that will keep you entertained for two hours, and on that front, at least, they succeed.
Stepping into the Liam Neeson role this time around is Kevin Costner as Ethan Renner, who is either an assasssin or a spy that works for either the CIA or the Secret Service (it's not really all that important in the end), forced to walk away from the job after he is diagnosed with cancer (or maybe a brain tumor). In an attempt to spend his remaining months bonding with his estranged daughter Zoey (Hailee Steinfeld), he moves to Paris to settle down. Of course, that's when Vivi (Amber Heard), a CIA agent/spy/assassin arrives, along with an experimental new drug that could extend Ethan's life, which she will happily pass along... if he takes out their two most wanted criminals within three days.
From there, the film veers wildly between graphic fight sequences, with enough chaos and destruction to equal both Taken movies, and the story of Ethan and Zoey’s growing relationship. Much of the plot is confusing and barely explained – Ethan and Vivi vaguely work for the CIA, although they're unconcerned by the devastating destruction they leave in their wake. The drug is “experimental,” but how it helps or why it’s only available through a giant purple syringe is waived away by the presence of a stack of “research.” Ethan only has three days to complete his mission, but seems to hang around Paris for a lot longer. The villains are wanted by the government for being tangentially involved with a “dirty bomb.” There's a shoehorned-in subplot about family of African immigrants squatting in Ethan's apartment. But despite the fact that so many of these elements never find a way to coalesce into a coherent whole, once the body count starts to rise and the buildings start to fall, it's easy to simply ignore all of that in favor of massive explosions.
When the film works, Ethan's job and his relationship with Zoey blend together in a way that gives 3 Days to Kill some much needed heart and humor — like when he's interrupted in torturing a target by her constant phone calls — but when it doesn’t, the transitions between Ethan taking out the criminals he's hunting and his slightly cloying bonding experience with Zoey can be jarring. As Ethan, Costner is a serviceable action hero; he growls threateningly and stares fondly at Steinfeld when the script calls for it, but for the most part, he appears to be phoning it in. Of course, for this kind of film, that’s all he really needs to do, but it means that by the time the credits roll, much of his performance is already forgotten. As Zoey, Steinfeld does her best with the material, and makes some of the more emotional scenes between herself and Costner affecting. However, even she can’t save the father-daughter plot of the film from becoming trite and stale at times, and so her scenes mostly feel like a quick breather in between the rounds of graphic violence.
Relativity Media via Everett Collection
Heard feels out-of-place as Vivi, who is introduced as the buttoned-down second-in-command to the head of the CIA, but then proceeds to spend the rest of the film speeding around Paris in sports cars, and prancing about in a wardrobe of leather, corsets, and high heels. Costner is clearly in an older-man action film, but Heard is in another film entirely, one in which she’s a sexy super spy single-handedly taking down international criminals. Despite the fact that she’s mostly there to provide exposition and to look pretty, there are moments where you almost wish that she was the focus of 3 Days to Kill instead — or, at the very least, that one of the many subplots had been dropped in favor of expanding her character.
And yet, despite all of the unanswered questions and the weird disparities in tone, 3 Days to Kill is a surprisingly entertaining film. The fact that one of the best fight sequences in the film takes place in a supermarket, while Ethan and an unnamed hitman grapple behind a deli counter, means that it's ridiculous enough to keep you engaged, but it's still able to amp up the tension when it needs to. And when you need a break from watching people come perilously close to being decapitated, there's a well-timed visual gag already lined up. It hits all of the notes required of a cheesy action film, and even though it gets far too bogged down in sentiment at times, it's still got enough heart to add a little substance to the flimsy plot.
The best player in the World for movie trailers, Hollywood interviews and movie clips.
3 Days to Kill does exactly what it needs to, and little more. It doesn't want to make you think — in fact, it actively encourages you not to — and it doesn't try to accomplish anything that will stay with you after the credits have rolled. All 3 Days to Kill wants is to keep you amused for a few hours, with a few explosions and some mindless fun. In the end, that's sometimes that's all you really need out of a movie.
S1E12: Person of Interest has been on a steady incline in quality for a few weeks now. The latest episode, “Legacy,” is neither quite an exception of nor a continuation of this pattern. Of the four elements that make up the episode, three are big winners. And the mere fact that so many different storylines are going on in an episode of Person of Interest without it getting cluttered or confusing is a testament to how much the show has organically grown. But there’s that one holdout: the Number of the Week story. It’s not a bad story at all. It is fueled by some good old-fashioned sentiment and humanism. It is well acted by all major parties. But something about Reese’s mission to protect a fledgling defense attorney who defends rehabilitating ex-cons, operating under the maxim, “Everybody deserves a second chance,” just feels a little bit like it is torn from the pages of your ordinary, less creative television procedural.
“I’m not running away from who I was. I was taught everyone deserves a second chance.” – Angela Gutierrez
Angela Gutierrez is a Queens-born, Queens-educated and Queens-based attorney whose belief in the goodness of humanity has driven her to defend ex-cons, such as Terrence King: a man whom she claims was wrongfully imprisoned for drug possession. The drugs were found at his house, where he claims they were planted. King is placed in a detention facility while his son is handed over to a pair of foster parents with several other children to their name. A hit man’s attempt on Gutierrez’s life is foiled by Reese, who traces the hit back to King’s parole officer. It turns out the officer has been planting evidence on various ex-cons with children; his goal is to get the parents put in jail and split the state-paid foster salary with foster parents like those who took in King’s son. All of this is made possible via some illicit paperwork undertaken by one of Gutierrez’s trusted coworkers, who claims to truly believe the children will be better off without their ex-con parents.
As stated above, the story, while sweet and not at all poorly executed, just feels a little too complacent. The surprise culprit is the nice guy we meet early on. The corrupt state employee’s big motivator was a little extra cash. I could have pictured Law & Order “dun-dunnns” accompany every scene change. But I don’t believe the real meat of this episode is intended to lie in the Number of the Week story. We get plenty of good stuff elsewhere.
“You’re getting paranoid, Carter. That’s a step in the right direction.” – Reese
Carter officially joins the team this week. Reese gives her the job of looking into Angela Gutierrez’s juvenile file once her number comes up. Carter is eager to join the task force, but has conditions: she refuses to do anything illegal. This is clearly not in close conjunction with the Reese/Finch business model. Still, throughout the episode, Carter becomes privy to the sort of activities her coworkers make their M.O., and rapidly decides to shrug many of them off after a quick hostile look and maybe a shout or two at Reese. She’s in the game now—it’s exciting to see how much of a conflict this will play for her in episodes when the police, or the CIA, start to catch wind of her mysterious behavior. Police more adept than Fusco, that is…
Fusco’s role in this episode, while not much more than trivial until the very end, is actually some dynamite comedy. Fusco, thinking he’s contributing something to the Reese/Finch team, keeps calling Reese with tips that Carter (about whose involvement he knows nothing) is “up to something.” She doesn’t know anything about Fusco’s involvement either—but she still manages to seem a lot less like a buffoon about it. Poor ol’ Lionel.
But the befuddled officer will get his moment to shine. In the final moments of the episode, Reese gives Fusco a mission—follow someone, and find out what he is up to. That someone: FINCH. (Now there’s your “dun-dunnn” scene break).
“You have your rules. And you have a chance to save a life. It’s your choice.” – Reese
See, throughout this episode, the open book that is Harold Finch is uncharacteristically enigmatic about some personal matters to which he must attend. We see Finch waiting outside of a courthouse, happily embracing a much younger man when he emerges. The man thanks Finch for bailing him out (“again”), and Finch expresses a great deal of pleasure to see him. Thoughts arise regarding who this kid might be. Does Finch have a son? No (or, probably not), but this is the closest thing we’ll likely see. He is Nathan Ingram’s (Finch’s old Machine partner) son, Will—a good-hearted, handsome young doctor with a suggested gambling problem—coming back to New York City to consider selling the old place his billionaire father left him.
It turns out the young man has very little knowledge about his father, despite (or, maybe, in accordance with) his apparently close relationship with Finch. But Will begins to uncover information in the investigation of his father’s old paperwork. What secret project was his dad working on? Why did he shut down his company for seven years, leaving all of his employees with only severance packages? Why did he sell his mysterious project to the government for just one dollar? All good questions. All questions he seems to be bent on finding the answers to. At least, bent enough to decide not to sell the house after all, and to stay in the area until he figures out the mysteries surrounding his deceased dad.
Therein arises a complication for Finch. Someone he cares about poses a threat to him and his secrets. And we’re not supposed to simply believe that Finch is afraid Will is going to find out about his vigilante work. There is more to Finch’s backstory, as has been overtly suggested since day one, that we do know know about. Thankfully, Will is operating with the same curiosities that we’ve had for weeks. But there’s dissention in the ranks—Reese’s distrust for Finch is brewing, and he’s having Fusco tail his boss to find out what is going on.
What did you think of this week’s episode? Do you think Will might uncover some dark secrets about the ominous Machine and the men who created it? Might we see a future where Reese turns on Finch entirely? Share some of your thoughts and theories in the comments section, or on Twitter (@MichaelArbeiter).
And if you're interested in reading more on the subject of the unfortunate life of Det. Lionel Fusco, check out our interview with Person of Interest star Kevin Chapman.