By Bill Wine
KYW Newsradio 1060
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — We’ve been taken with Liam Neeson ever since Taken.
That was the 2008 thriller that established the already well-respected and Oscar-nominated star of Schindler’s List as a bona fide action star.
Non-Stop extends his action résumé with an airplane-hijacking thriller with whodunit elements that, airborne for nearly all its running time, flies the unfriendly skies fueled by the paranoia we feel in the post-9/11 universe.
Neeson plays ex-cop Bill Marks, an undercover federal air marshal who, ironically, is afraid of flying and is furthermore tired, alcoholic, and grieving the death of his daughter.
He’s assigned to a transatlantic flight from New York City to London. Seated next to him in business class is a frequent-flying passenger played by Julianne Moore.
And serving as flight attendants are none other than Lupita Nyong’o (the Oscar winner for best supporting actress for 12 Years a Slave) in a very small role, and Michelle Dockery (Lady Mary on television’s “Downton Abbey”) in a more extensive one.
Then comes an ominous text message from someone apparently on the flight, now 40,000 feet in the air as it crosses the Atlantic, who knows Marks’ identity and is demanding that $150 million be wired to an offshore bank account or someone on the plane will be killed every twenty minutes.
Oddly, however, it would appear that the hijacker, if the clues are to be believed, is Marks himself. After all, the money the account is to be deposited in is his.
But if the terrorist isn’t Marks, who is it?
Spanish director Jaume Collet-Serra — who directed Neeson in the 2011 amnesia thriller Unknown, and also directed House of Wax and Orphan –- keeps things tense and suspenseful and kinetic, and features plenty of close-quarters action that manages to be both claustrophobic and exhilarating.
Meanwhile, the screenplay — by John W. Richardson, Chris Roach, and Ryan Engle, based on a story by Richardson and Roach — keeps us guessing as to the villain’s identity and motive, filling the plane with so many suspicious secondary characters and bright red herrings that you half-expect to see “Agatha Christie Airlines” stenciled on the side of the plane.
There are absurdities along the way, to be sure, but this is a film that is aware of its own penchant for absurdity, which takes the edge off and makes us willing to play along.
As he always does, Neeson adds a strong measure of gravitas to the proceedings, helping us to forgive some of the crazily implausible narrative twists and turns, which grow more and more preposterous as the over-the-top climax approaches.
Neeson’s character in this action outing has somewhat more vulnerability than has been his recent norm, but he can still take care of business.
So we’ll fasten our seat belt around 2½ stars out of 4 for the passably entertaining Non-Stop, a coach (as opposed to first-class) in-flight mystery thriller that you will undoubtedly never see as your in-flight movie.