The old saw is that dying is easy but comedy is hard. That may be so, but unintentional comedy is as easy as it comes. I was reminded of that fact while attending a late-night screening Thursday of "Non-Stop." Billed as an action/mystery/thriller, "Non-Stop" is as ridiculous an excuse for an empty-headed movie offering as Hollywood has produced in some time.
Here are the top 10 things wrong with "Non-Stop" (beware, spoilers abound):
1. Liam Neeson finally gives up trying to cover his inability to pull off a convincing American accent. Late in the film, in one of those plot explications that pass for plot development, his character — Bill Marks — is revealed as having been born in Ireland.
2. It is a basic indictment of the Federal Air Marshall service. And not just because Neeson's character is an air marshall who is implicated in a plot to kill people on an international flight he is working. No, because his character is revealed to have been an NYPD officer whose career was cut short by alcoholism, who we see in the opening scene swilling liquor before boarding the plane, and who tapes vents in the plane's restroom so that he can light up a cigarette. Just what kind of vetting does the marshall service do in its hiring, anyway?
3. It features more nonsensical plot twists than three dozen pretzels. Marks' boss dislikes and mistrusts him, then changes his attitude 180 degrees. What's in the briefcase (a toothbrush, cocaine, bomb)? Who is the villain, the woman who wants the window, the co-pilot, the English-accented flight attendant, the black guy in a hoodie, the black guy in shirt and tie, the bespectacled nerd, the off-duty cop, the Middle-Eastern-looking doctor, Marks himself (all of them, none of them)?
4. As the flight's 100-odd passengers gradually panic that people are dying all around them, and that the large-bodied Marks is running around, pistol drawn, smacking some people and duct-taping others, they quickly settle down when Marks promises them "free international travel for a year." As if anyone is ever gonna believe that.
5. Corey Stoll is wasted. Don't know Stoll? He had a prominent role during the first season of "House of Cards," and he played a convincingly earnest Ernest Hemingway in "Midnight in Paris." Here he is reduced to fuming and frowning, getting his nosed smashed and … well, worse.
6. Speaking of Stoll and passenger panic, "Non-Stop" actually uses a "United 93" scenario as a throw-away plot point. Seriously.
7. Promising to kill a passenger every 20 minutes, the movie's villain depends on mere chance — and screenwriting facility — to make good on most of the threats. Split-second timing, a staple of all movie villains, occurs because it's needed for story development, not because it is in any way believable.
8. The cute factor. The screenwriters (at least three are on record), apparently trying to show Marks' good side, wrote in a young girl character who is afraid of flying. Marks, who has panic attacks during takeoffs, bonds with her from the beginning — though in real life, the little girl likely would have run screaming, especially after having smelled his alcohol breath.
9. No respect for physics. Not only does an airliner crash-diving from 30,000 to 8,000 feet manage to pull up easily, and without losing its wings, but bullets flying through windows have no catastrophic effects, a bomb explodes but doesn't blow off the plane's tail (or otherwise mangle the controls), and a crash landing manages to happen without anything (or anyone) catching fire.
10. After all this, the screenwriters opt for the most improbable happy ending ever. This happens after a profoundly embarrassing melt-down confession, an impromptu plea by Marks that unaccountably wins over a cabin full of near-panicked people who are stuck in a claustrophobic space, speeding at 500 mph some six miles in the air, having already witnessed the deaths of two people — one of whom was the plane's pilot. Yeah, of course. Happens all the time.