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
“My dick is going to get so wet tonight ” declares Costa the foul-mouthed ringleader of a trio of sex-starved teens in the opening moments of Project X the new “found-footage” comedy from director Nima Nourizadeh and producer Todd Phillips (The Hangover). Believe it or not this qualifies as one of his more charming moments in the film. All of 17 but blessed with an obnoxiousness lesser men would take decades to cultivate Costa (Oliver Cooper) is the perfect mascot for a film that makes no bones of its mostly prurient intentions proffering what is essentially a succession of debaucherous montages intermingled with uneven attempts at comedy and held together by the slimmest pretense of a plot.
Caustic as he is Costa at least exhibits something of a recognizable personality; the same cannot be said of his two cohorts the tubby dweeb J.B. (Jonathan Daniel Brown) and the earnest blank Thomas (Thomas Mann). None of them seem to enjoy much in the way of popularity at their high school located in the fictional suburb of North Pasadena but Costa has a plan to fix that. On the occasion of his 17th birthday Thomas whose parents have conveniently departed for the weekend reluctantly agrees to host a party that Costa promises will be a “game-changer” for their lowly social status.
Hardly a game-changer is Project X’s script co-written by Matt Drake and Michael Bacall which mostly treads a predictable teen-comedy path. At its outset the party appears to be a bust. Soon however hordes of eager revelers descend upon Thomas’ house and the event swiftly devolves into a festival of wanton hedonism that would impress Charlie Sheen. The orgy of booze drugs and sex is captured by Nourizadeh in one impressively slick sequence after another set to a vibrant soundtrack.
To maintain the guise of an actual movie – and to occupy us between shots of topless beauties downing tequila and frolicking in the pool – Project X tosses in a few familiar tropes to push its story along: an unstable drug-dealer bent on revenge a buzzkilling neighbor seeking to end the night’s festivities prematurely a budding but hesitant attraction between Thomas and his childhood friend Kirby (Kirby Bliss Blanton). But the scenes are so hollow and contrived that you get the sense even the filmmakers don’t buy them and only added them to the film in a transparent ploy to forestall allegations of complete and utter vapidity. The efforts serve only to add a dash of the banal to the proceedings.
Project X’s natural forebears – R-rated teen comedies Superbad and American Pie – tempered their crudity and outrageousness with a surprising degree of depth and sincerity. Moreover they were actually funny. Project X is a shallow affair to be sure but a dearth of laughs is what ultimately dooms it. A belligerent little person who goes on a crotch-kicking spree after being tossed in an oven amounts to the film’s most sophisticated attempt at humor. More often it relies on recycled gags from previous films (including Phillips’ own library from Road Trip to The Hangover Part II) and Jackass-inspired mishaps.
The found-footage approach has proven to be a potent (if overused) tool in horror films but its utility in the service of comedy at least in the hands of Nourizadeh is limited. It mostly comes across as a needless gimmick good for marketing purposes but little else. Perhaps acknowledging as much Project X’s backup plan calls for an incessant raising of the stakes. As the once-innocuous gathering metastasizes into a fully-fledged riot one so dangerous that even the police dare not intervene the specter of parental disapproval gives way to the threat of incarceration and finally to the potential incineration of the entire neighborhood. The scale of the destruction is impressive – especially for such a (presumably) low-budget film – but like much of what precedes it almost entirely pointless.
Follow Thomas Leupp on Twitter.
Follow Hollywood.com on Twitter.
November 10, 2010 4:11am EST
Is the arrival of Apollo 18 making other found-footage projects abandon ship?
After reporting on Tuesday that Roland Emmerich's sci-fi found-footage flick The Zone had been shut down, the Heat Vision blog yesterday added that yet another victim in the hot genre had been shelved -- albeit with what looks like a happy ending. The culprit, says HV, is the Timur Bekmambetov-produced Apollo, which the Weinstein Co. boarded this past weekend.
HV provides backstory, recalling that back in October Warner Bros. picked up Dark Moon, a spec script written by Olatunde Osunsanmi, for Akiva Goldsman to produce. Osunsanmi was also on board to direct the found footage project.
The genre's conceit is that the footage purports to be genuine reels, tapes or files found after the person operating the camera expires or disappears. Alien-invasion flick Cloverfield kicked off the recent trend, which also encompasses the hugely successful Paranormal Activity movies.
Like Apollo 18, Moon is based on the idea that NASA's manned moon missions did not stop with Apollo 17.
But, says HV, when Warners execs learned of TWC and Bekmambetov's project over the weekend, they got nervous. On Monday the Moon folks were told their mission was in turnaround.
Cue Dark Castle's Andrew Rona and Alex Heineman, fans of the Moon script. The duo went to boss Joel Silver with the project on Tuesday and Silver reportedly authorized the company to pick the pic up.
Negotiations are still ongoing, but Moon will now be financed and made by Dark Castle, with Weed Road still on board as a producer. The project will shoot this winter -- ironically, for distribution next year via Warners, as per Dark Castle's output deal with the studio.
Back in Emmerich's Zone, the director's camp told HV: "This is not a project (Emmerich) is pursuing at this time."
Members of the production are at a loss as to why the film had its plug pulled, though rumors abound, says HV:
Two factors may be in play: One, the found-footage trope is becoming overplayed, and two, Zone would have been released a scant weeks after another found-footage sci-fi movie.
TWC's Apollo is set for March; Zone would have come out in April.
It looks like in the staring contest between Bekmambetov and Emmerich, Emmerich blinked first, which is too bad as both would have probably been different enough that both filmmakers could have stood tall. Being a marketer on the second movie, however, would have been a tough job.
Source: Hollywood Wiretap
"A man is recruited by a team of government agents to stop a terrorist from the future who is using time travel to reshape history." No, its not the latest Phillip K. Dick adaptation - it's the plot of the script Warner Bros. just bought, Colin Trevorrow's "World War X." That's not quite enough information to develop an opinion of this project at such an early stage of development - especially since relative newcomer Trevorrow has written little of note - but the plot and title sound intriguing enough! We'll keep an eye on this one.
The studio plans to develop Trevorrow's script with Silver Pictures (the same company that is producing the Sherlock Holmes sequel), a division of Warner Bros. Joel Silver (who has produced almost 100 films) and Andrew Rona have already signed on to produce, along with exec producers Chris Bender, JC Spink, Alex Heineman, and Jake Weiner.