“Non-Stop” takes two old reliables and puts them in the same movie.
First, we have the “Die Hard” formula, wherein the hero is stuck in a confined space, like an airplane, overcoming ever-worsening obstacles and trying to outwit the bad guy’s carefully laid evil plans.
Then we have Liam Neeson, who may be one of the last bonafide movie stars left in a business focused mainly on franchises.
Since the success of “Taken” in 2009, Neeson has become an unlikely action hero. In his 60s, he’s not a body builder, martial artist or magazine model. He’s actually a trained, Oscar-nominated actor.
However this bizarre phenomenon came about, it’s most welcome.
Neeson plays air marshal Bill Marks; as the movie reiterates many times, he’s a drunk, a failed cop and a failed family man. He doesn’t even like flying much, but he boards a flight for London anyway, and prepares to do his job.
An unknown person texts him, warning that someone on the plane will die every 20 minutes unless $150 million is wired to a special account.
Unfortunately, the more Bill tries to find the bad guy and solve the problem, the more it starts to appear as if he’s the problem. Before long, he’s being blamed for all the trouble.
Julianne Moore plays a spunky redheaded passenger who somehow believes Bill’s story and tries to give him a hand. (Moore and Neeson, who played a married couple in Atom Egoyan’s “Chloe,” have a warm chemistry.)
Director Jaume Collet-Serra, who worked with Neeson on the 2011 thriller “Unknown,” sometimes uses the cramped quarters to tense effect, such as a fight between two air marshals in a tiny lavatory.
The fight requires quick little blows and nasty short shots rather than big, graceful movements, and it’s quite effective. Collet-Serra seems best at the smaller moments. Bigger action scenes in the main cabin are less interesting.
Meanwhile, the screenplay is far from flawless. Astute viewers likely will find a few holes here and there, as well as question the motive behind the whole sinister plan.
Yet with a large cast of familiar faces, the film does a terrific job of planting red herrings and keeping suspects at arm’s length.
On a pure gut level, “Non-Stop” cooks up some terrific, swift suspense, and it’s all rooted in that appealing, hangdog face of Neeson’s. Let’s hope his career keeps flying.
Starring Liam Neeson, Julianne Moore, Lupita Nyong’o, Corey Stoll
Written by John W. Richardson, Chris Roach, Ryan Engle
Directed by Jaume Collet-Serra
Running time 1 hour, 46 minutes