Friday, February 28, 2014
Bill Marks (Liam Neeson), a U.S. Air Marshal, doesn't look very good when he pours himself a drink in the parking lot before boarding a flight from New York to London. Obviously he bears more emotional baggage than his drinking problem. He holds a still face and hardly talks, until a talkative prying fellow passenger Jen (Julianne Moore) sits next to him.
After the plane is in the midair and his smoking break in a lavatory by tempering smoking detector (really?), he starts getting text messages on his secure pager. The text messages demand a transfer of $150 million into a provided bank account. Otherwise, for every 20 minutes, a passenger on the plane will be killed.
Bill realizes that this is a real threat when people indeed die one after another one. Even worse, Bill seems to be responsible to each death. With the help from Jen and a calm flight attendant Nancy (Michelle Dockery), he tries to figure out who is sending those messages. But that effort only makes everyone looked suspicious, creating a mysterious and fascinating scenario as in "Murder on the Oriental Express."
But the fun part of the film ends when the crisis escalates out of control. The script is no longer capable of providing reasonably plausible resolutions to its setup. Therefore, the film decides to go ahead and crash landing its story with the airplane, hoping for the best.
If the director Jamume Collet-Serra held up the pace as in the beginning of the film, with the help from Liam Neeson's action hero looking figure, the film would have survived the ordeal. Unfortunately, he switches his gear in his storytelling and turns a mysterious thriller into a typical airplane disaster movie. Even worse, he ignores the viewers' intelligence and ruthlessly proceeds with his flight plan, even when all alarms have been set off.
Why bother to scan an armed Air Marshal by using the body imagining machine at the airport? How come all the in-flight TV monitors are showing CNN live news feed while flight attendants who control the programming have no clue about what's on the news? How can it be possible that no one on the airplane smells Bill's smoking in a lavatory except the one who sends the text messages (especially when the air in a pressurized cabin is recycled)? How exactly can the $150 million be retrieved? How does everyone get decent cellular signal over the Atlantic Ocean?
One of the film's most surreal moments is when Bill confesses that he is an alcoholic while waving his gun and holding his AA meeting with the panic passengers who he is supposed to protect. Under the protection by Air Marshals like Bill, no American airliner has been hijacked after 9/11. Since we have been so lucky, maybe it's time to abolish the U.S. Air Marshal program to save some seats for the bumped off passengers to save some tax payers' money.
From the alcoholic Bill to window-seat-seeking Jen, from the ruthless terrorists to the distressed passengers, the film fails to convincingly explain the motives of their actions. Perhaps it's better that way, so that you all feel safer next time when you fly. It's almost impossible to believe that anything happened during this flight could have ever happened in real life. If you watch this movie during a flight, that impression from this film becomes more important.
I don't expect I can spot a U.S. Air Marshal in a flight any time soon after this movie is released, because the troubled ones resembling Liam Neeson might already have checked into rehab, and others remain invisible while taking up valuable passenger seats.