Despite its final quarter hour CGI shots of a bogus jetliner plunging earthward with two jet fighters flanking it, “Non-Stop” (**1/2 OUT OF ****) qualifies as a preposterous but entertaining airborne mystery-thriller. At 61-years of age, rugged Liam Neeson stars as troubled U.S. Air Marshal William Marks. Not only has Marks survived the death of his adolescent daughter, but he has also experienced a devastating divorce along with the loss of his first job as a New York City Police Department detective. Meantime, he has deteriorated into a guilt-ridden, nicotine-addicted, alcoholic plagued by memories of his grim past. At one point during this tense as well as terse PG-13-rated melodrama, our hero exposes his clay feet when he describes himself as a deplorable dad. A flawed hero usually wins an audience’s sympathy, and a scruffy Neeson emerges as an affable enough protagonist with a dark mood or two. He winds up tangling with a homicidal hijacker who has undermined his authority in the eyes of his superiors. “Orphan” director Jaume Collet-Serra and rookie writers John W. Richardson, Christopher Roach, and Ryan Engle challenge us with a gallery of unusual suspects when they aren’t playing a game of charades about the hijacker’s identity. Naturally, they dole out red herrings galore to throw us off the scent. Unless you’re blessed as a psychic, you may have a difficult time exposing the perpetrator. Cunningly, for the better part of its white-knuckled 106 minutes, Collet-Serra keeps a variety of paranoid passengers bottled up inside the cramped confines of an airliner and then kindles considerable tension within this combustible setting after our hero discovers a ticking time-bomb on board. Rarely does Collet-Serra and company relieve the tension by cross-cutting to exterior scenes of ground personnel until the end. Indeed, you may find yourself feeling a little claustrophobic before an explosive but formulaic finale. Unfortunately, “Non-Stop” suffers from a dire lack of plausibility, but compensates with a compelling mystery, adroitly staged combat action scenes, and a brisk, snappy pace. Although neither as gripping as either “Flightplan” nor as serious as 9/11 hijacking epic” United 93,” “Non-Stop” generates more than enough suspenseful, edge-of-the-seat seconds to offset its superficial moments. What it does wrong may be overlooked charitably enough because it is a movie instead of a real-life predicament. The cast is strong and does a good job of diverting us from the identity of the hijacker.
William Marks isn’t having the time of his life when he boards his latest plane as an undercover U.S. Air Marshal. Initially, he helps a little girl retrieve her plush toy before he starts receiving prank text messages on his phone about people who are going to die in 20 minutes if an unknown assailant’s demands are not met. Moreover, this wily, anonymous opponent has gone a step further by incriminating our hero as the villain. Eventually, chief pilot Captain David McMillan (Linus Roache of “Batman Begins”) insists that a reluctant Marks surrender his badge and his automatic pistol. Despite these misgivings, our unhappy hero complies with the captain’s request, but this doesn’t discourage Marks from ferreting out the hijacker with the help of several passengers, particularly a business woman, Jen Summers (Julianne Moore of “Carrie”) who looks pretty suspicious herself. Along the way, he discovers an attaché case filled with cocaine as well as a bomb. By this time, Marks has been thoroughly incriminated as the hijacker thanks to a passenger who has caught some of our hero’s questionable actions on video and has somehow sent them to news agencies. The situation grows even worse when Captain McMillan dies inexplicably from poisoning while he is flying the jetliner. Nobody can enter the flight deck where the pilot and co-pilot are, and this bit of skullduggery really gives Marks as well as the audience something to think about as the seconds to doom tick inexorably ahead.
“Non-Stop” doesn’t let up until the last minute when all hope seems to be lost not only for the passengers but also our hero. Meantime, little else can be said about this exciting, nerve racking, nail-biter without divulging important plot points. Interestingly enough, Oscar winning “12 Years A Slave” actress Lupita Nyong’o appears in a minor role as one of several flight attendants. Altogether, Liam Neeson fans should be pleased with most of what occurs in “Non-Stop.”0