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'Non-Stop:' Murder on the transatlantic express

Non-Stop

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Liam Neeson’s new action flick, “Non-Stop,” demonstrates once again that Neeson can elevate a mediocre film into engaging entertainment.

Liam Neeson (as Federal Air Marshall Marks) tries to find the on-board terrorist
Universal Pictures

Neeson hit the action film genre big-time with the unexpected success of “Taken” (2009). That slick action-thriller, about a former-CIA operant who desperately travels through Europe to save his daughter from slavers, was made for $25 million dollars but raked in over $226 million dollars worldwide. Since then, the former “Schindler’s List” actor, who was a surprise choice for “Taken,” has become one of the few bankable action heroes over 60 who can reliably bring an audience to his one-man, action-hero shoot ‘em ups in films such as “Unknown,” “Taken 2,” “The Grey,” and the recently announced “Taken 3.”

“Non-Stop” seems to follow the same “Neeson-the-action-hero” formula that has met with such box office success. Neeson plays federal air marshal, Bill Marks, a former cop who has had struggles with alcoholism. The Irish-born marshal (who now holds an American passport) seems like a nice enough guy, returning a lost Paddington Bear to an about-to-board-the-plane little girl, even if he does drink alcohol before his seemingly routine federal duty commences. We see the world through Marks’ blurry viewpoint until he appears to suddenly shake off the alcohol’s wooziness when a series of anonymous, threatening texts appear on his secure government pager while on-board his transatlantic flight. The texts (which interestingly appear in large ominous bubbles on screen) forewarn that a on-board passenger will die every 20 minutes unless Marks somehow arranges $150 million dollars to be electronically deposited into a bank account.

Suddenly sober, the marshal now has to find an unknown terrorist 35,000 feet over the Atlantic ocean and protect as many of the passengers and crew as possible. Neeson’s character soon has to be involved in an elaborate guessing game while playing cat-and-mouse with the texts. Could the culprit be his pretty crimson-haired (but secretive) seatmate, Jen (Julianne Moore)? Nancy, the flight attendant who knows him (“Downton Abbey’s” Michelle Dockery)? The little-known flight attendant (“12 Years A Slave’s” Lupita Nyong’o)? Or could it be one of the many texting male passengers throughout the plane? Alternatively, could Marks be losing his grip with reality?

Unfortunately, “Non-Stop’s” plot progression is highly transparent and the story is filled with action elements we’ve seen before. The “high-stakes-on-a-plane” plot also isn’t nearly as whip-smart as some of the action sequences in “Speed” or “Air Force One.” So what’s the appeal? It boils down to Neeson, himself. The skilled actor appears to wring every bit of intensity he can out of sub-par action films. Truly, it is Neeson’s believable gruffness and intensity that keeps the otherwise incredulous plot strangely taut and engaging. Moore, too, as an enigmatic character, has very little to work with but, somehow, she comes across quirky and appealing.

Spanish-born director Jaume Collet-Serra, who worked with Neeson before in the action-thriller “Unknown,” also does a fair job keeping the audience guessing the identity of the terrorist. Also appealing is a nifty fight sequence that takes place in the smallest of spaces. In sum, yes, the plot is a bit “Agatha Christie-meets-Inspector Cliché” but Neeson’s performance is strong enough to draw in the date-night audience. “Non-Stop” is not a can’t-miss flight, but you’ll have a fairly good time when on-board. “Non-Stop” is rated 3+ of 5 stars.

“Non-Stop” is rated “PG-13 for intense sequences of action and violence, some language, sensuality and drug references.”

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