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'Non-Stop' offers good popcorn fun

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Non-Stop

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And ain't nothin' wrong with that. "Non-Stop" lurches us as badly as it does its passengers, but it's still a decent time, and perfect first date or family gathering fare.

Here we again meet Liam Neeson in another [apparently trademark-worthy] badass action role, this time as Bill Marks, federal air marshal monitoring a transatlantic flight. Bill’s had rough go of things since experiencing a personal tragedy and is rather going through the motions, but snaps to in a hurry upon receiving a threatening text on his secured-network phone.

It seems that someone on the very plane itself wants money. A lot of it. And will kill a passenger every twenty minutes until the demand is met.

"Non-Stop" brings us solid action fare in the venerable tradition of the classic "Airport": enough characterization to keep things moving and keep us caring, but not so much that it undermines the purpose of the moment, that being to land a plane carrying a maniac without killing everyone aboard.

Led by strong performances including Julianne Moore as Bill’s window-seat-obsessed neighbor and Michelle Dockery as the cucumber-cool lead flight attendant, "Non-Stop" tantalizes us with several possible explanations, keeping us always guessing as to the killer’s identity and ultimate goal. What seems to be suddenly isn’t, who seems legit suddenly doesn’t, and we’re treated to an increasing burn of whodunit tension through most of the film, even to the point of wondering at times for whom we should be cheering at all.

Unfortunately, when all comes clear and the forces of good and evil face each other down, "Non-Stop" jars as brutally as did the plane when it abruptly dropped ten thousand feet.

Suddenly the cool, well-crafted heist climbs onto a political soapbox and starts screaming vengeance utterly unforeshadowed. Instead of chilling us with a realization of what’s really been afoot all along, cowing us with the big picture, it prompts an involuntary, “Oh come on.”

"Non-Stop" could have graced us with a chilling villain the likes of Kiefer Sutherland in "Phone Booth", could have crafted a cat-and-mouse on the order of "Basic Instinct", could have closed in from every side as claustrophobically as "No Way Out".

Alas, it was not to be.

So here’s how you get around it in real time. When you get there (and you’ll know “there” when you see it), listen to the tone of the person’s voice, but superimpose a tirade along the lines of “You incompetent fool! You arrogant lunatic! You have no business being here, and your colossal ego is going to get every single one of us killed." [Everyone look at the little girl on her first flight, alone.] "You should be in jail.”

There. Now just rock along with the rest of the movie.

Fun spot: In being introduced to the flight crew, we meet pilot and co-pilot Linus Roache and Jason Butler Harner, respectively. Regarding Harner, I kept thinking, “Where have I seen him just recently?” Ticking through the options… nothing… then the next morning, aha. It was the 2009 episode of "Law & Order" I’d watched during supper a few nights ago, where he guest starred as the defendant… and was being prosecuted by Linus Roache.

"Non-Stop" won’t stand up to scrutiny as a tightly-woven thriller, but it’s a terrific option for a first date or a gathering of folks with varied taste. It’s tense without being grueling, populated with reasonably interesting and relatable (well, mostly) characters, and its flaws will provide opportunity for easy, lively conversation of comparisons with other films.

Good popcorn fun and lively conversation. Ain't nothing wrong with that.

Story: A personally troubled federal air marshal battles a killer who will murder a passenger every twenty minutes until $150M is wired into an off-shore account.

Genre: Action/Adventure, Suspense/Thriller

Starring: Liam Neeson, Julianne Moore, Michelle Dockery, Linus Roache, Jason Butler Harner, Scoot McNairy, Nate Parker, Corey Stoll, Omar Metwally, Lupita Nyong'o

Directed by: Jaume Collet-Serra

MPAA: PG-13

Running time: 106 minutes

Official site: http://www.nonstopthefilm.com/

Houston release date: February 28, 2014

Tickets: Check Fandango, IMDb, or your local listings

Screened Feb 25th at the Edwards Grand Palace theater in Houston TX

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