Liam Neeson takes to the skies as an air marshal carrying more baggage than his passengers in "Non-Stop." As agent Bill Marks, Neeson looks rough, as in doesn't sleep or eat much rough. That's due to being a remorse ridden father still grieving over the loss of his young daughter. It's further due to his chain smoking and alcoholism. And to top it off, his job regularly puts him on planes but he really hates to fly.
As if he doesn't have enough to deal with already, his latest flight finds his secure line cell phone hacked by an anonymous text messenger. The messages start out creepily conversational then give way to threats of murder every 20 minutes unless a $150 million ransom demand is met. As the minutes tick away the stakes grow more desperate as Marks' own agency, crew and passengers start to doubt him and eye him with suspicion.
This is a smart and surprising thriller that proves, just as its tagline says, the hijacking was just the beginning. But you just have to get past the weak and hackneyed opening. "Non-Stop" starts out looking like a rubber stamp boozing ex-cop tale, but once it boards the plane it's time to buckle your seatbelts. The suspense is intense throughout and there's enough mystery to keep you guessing right to the heart-pounding huge action sequence climax. Even Marks' constant smoking comes to have a purpose.
You'll see the newly familiar Michelle Dockery (Mary on the BBC's "Downton Abby) and this year's Best Supporting Actress Oscar winner Lupita Nyong'o ("12 Years a Slave") as stewardesses and Julianne Moore does nice work as an enigmatic passenger Marks places in his trust. The remainder of the solid cast are fresh faces who get some nice moments in a movie that offers something a little different to the action genre.