Air marshall Bill Marks (Liam Neeson) has just boarded a plane headed across the Pacific Ocean to London. While the flight is supposed to be just another trip like the hundreds before it, little does Marks or the 150 passengers plus crew suspect that there is in fact a murderer aboard who will soon make it clear that unless they receive 150 million dollars in 20 minutes, they will kill someone on the plane and another every 20 minutes that passes without payment. With Marks the only person on board in communication with the killer and with the help of a suspicious stranger (Julianne Moore) and a stewardess (Michelle Dockery) at his aid when the evidence begins to point towards him as the key suspect, he must locate the killer before everyone on the plane becomes a victim of this dangerous game.
Liam Neeson, despite whoring himself out to the highest bidder anymore, is still a solid enough actor to elevate even the worst film. Now, while Non-Stop is far from being a horrible film, it does wear out its welcome far too soon after setting the stage for what should have been a fun mystery thriller but instead devolves into a generic action movie by the end. Neeson is just about the only part of the film that keeps everything from collapsing under the weight of its own absurdities and extremely bland characterizations though.
He plays this down and out former law enforcement officer who has just suffered a loss of some kind and has found his answer at the bottom of a bottle and on the seat of countless airplanes as an air marshall, the one person that our government entrusts to keep us safe up in the clouds from terrorists and all other threats that they likely have never even thought of. We don't know much about him beyond that, which is why the casting of Neeson in the role was such a pivotal win for the film. Neeson is that rare action star who is able to emote while still retaining his dignity and always feeling like a constant threat to whomever displeases him.
So any issues with how underwritten or just one note the character may seem on paper is easily overlooked when watching Neeson roam a jetliner looking for a perpetrator who is having a battle wits in text form with the physically imposing actor. The only other area the film wins points with is in how well it sets the stage for what quickly becomes your basic murder mystery, not unlike the classic Murder On The Orient Express, which involves a single detective type investigating a murder in an isolated location. The cast of extras, which ranges from recognizable character actors such as Scoot McNairy and Corey Stoll to a stable of unknowns is the perfect breeding ground for false accusations and a ton of semi-plausible red herrings.
Then there is the insecurity we all feel towards any sort of threat aboard an airplane after the 9/11 terrorist attack as well, which has left us all in a constant state of subdued terror in its wake. The film takes great advantage of this scenario and spins its conspiracy in a direction that seems almost too clever for a movie about catching a killer on an airplane, which unfortunately it is in the end. All the momentum created early on with the suspicions towards Neeson's character being part of the conspiracy and the number of accused individuals is shoved aside for what becomes this sort of generic action thrill ride where once the mystery is solved, all that is left is to shoot guns, blow things up and hope that there is enough popcorn left in your bucket to last until those end credits begin to play.
Surprisingly though, the one thing the film isn't at fault for are the plot holes that these types of films are infamous for. While it is difficult to see how many of the pieces that make up the puzzle that is Non-Stop come together, in hindsight there isn't really much to be criticized besides a number of coincidences and a few instances where if two people were to just simply stop and talk it would disrupt the entire plan of the murderer, which will please those who like to unravel a film's mystery and try to punch holes in its supposedly smart script.
The final nail in the coffin though for the film is the political message it tries to sell us on that feels so forced and unnecessarily light weight that it almost feels like an insult to the victims of 9/11 and to the men and women who protect us from terrorist attacks. When that final nugget of information is revealed by the end of the film, it was hard to not think of a much better (and sadly forgotten) film that dealt with much of the same subjects that Non-Stop does, but did it in a much better and a much more gratifying way. That film was called Arlington Road and starred Jeff Bridges, and if you watch Non-Stop and feel as though the payoff at the end was lacking, watch this film directly after and see for yourself how much better it makes the same argument Non-Stop tries to make but does it in a much more classy and shocking way without firing one bullet.
Those looking for yet another movie featuring Liam Neeson kicking ass and felt underwhelmed with some of his more recent work such as Taken 2 and Unknown, can sadly lump Non-Stop in that same category of disappointment. While it isn't a horrible film outright (and isn't nearly as bad as the tragedy that was Taken 2), fans of Neeson and the airplane thriller sub-genre will be best served by holding off and waiting for Non-Stop to reach the home market and check it out then.