Movie reviews: Suspenseful thriller Non-Stop

Non-Stop ****

Movie reviews: Suspenseful thriller Non-Stop

If you’re planning any transatlantic flights in the near future, do yourself a favour and avoid Non-Stop (12A). On board a routine flight from New York to London, undercover Federal Air Marshal Bill Marks (Liam Neeson) receives a text message informing him that unless he arranges for $150 million to be paid into a specified bank account in the next 20 minutes, a passenger will die. The threat appears to be emanating from inside the plane, but how is Marks to discover the guilty party without causing a potentially lethal panic? What follows is a tense, stripped-back thriller steeped in paranoia and twists. Jaume Collet-Serra’s pacy movie is as streamlined as the jet liner speeding along at 500 miles per hour, and while co-star Julianne Moore’s function appears to largely involve popping up on a regular basis with a raised eyebrow to remind the audience of how preposterous the tale is becoming, it’s all hugely enjoyable. Neeson plays more or less the same role he has carved out for himself in the last few years, the all-action one-man army he played in Taken (2008) and Unknown (2011), with the difference here being that Bill Marks is a man who has no visible enemy to target. The movie asks questions about how much we can take airline security (and by extension, US national security) at face value when potential terrorists are indistinguishable from innocent civilians, but most of the fun to be had here is in watching Neeson prowl the claustrophobic confines of the airplane like a wounded bear, growling and snarling and trying to do the right thing in the face of insuperable odds.

Opening in Germany in 1938, The Book Thief (12A) centres on Liesel (Sophie Nélisse), a young girl adopted by Hans (Geoffrey Rush) and Rosa Hubermann (Emily Watson). Encouraged by kindly Hans, the illiterate Liesel starts learning to read, and is soon reading so voraciously that she steals books from Nazi bonfires of banned works. That’s a dangerous enough activity in its own right, but as Germany goes to war, Hans and Rosa make a courageous but potentially calamitous decision when they agree to allow a Jewish refugee, Max (Ben Schnetzer), to hide in their cellar. Adapted from the best-selling novel by Markus Zuzak, and directed by Brian Percival, The Book Thief offers a child’s-eye view of life under the Nazi regime. While the storytelling is occasionally clumsy — such as when the school bully who taunts Liesel for being a ‘dummkopf’ because she can’t read grows up to become a teenage Nazi policing the bonfires of literature — the story itself is rarely less than engrossing, particularly when Max comes to live in the Hubermann’s cellar and the family grow ever more desperate in their attempts to hide him from the authorities. Geoffrey Rush is in splendid form here, playing a henpecked husband to Emily Watson’s hard-hearted scold, while the wide-eyed Sophie Nélisse gives a very creditable performance as she charts the erosion of Liesel’s innocence. The story loses some of its focus in the latter stages, and the voiceover from Death (Roger Allam) grows increasingly grating, but for the most part The Book Thief is an enjoyably bittersweet celebration of the indestructibility of the human spirit and the written word.

In Ride Along (12A), security guard and aspiring cop Ben (Kevin Hart) goes out on patrol with Atlanta PD detective James (Ice Cube) in a bid to prove himself worthy of marriage to James’ sister, Angela (Tika Sumpter). The comedy here is derived from the inevitable personality clash — Ben is irrepressibly mouthy, while James is dour and taciturn — and the fact that Ben believes skills derived from playing computer games will prove useful on the mean streets of Atlanta. Hugely successful at the US box office, it’s a conventional set-up that brings to mind any number of adversarial buddy-buddy movies, but Tim Story’s movie maintains the same tone throughout, so that Hart’s babbling quickly becomes irritating, while Ice Cube maintains the same surly demeanour for the duration. There are moments of light relief but this is a plodding, one-dimensional tale that really shouldn’t have name-checked Training Day (2001) if it didn’t want us comparing it to much better movies of its kind.

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