It’s easy to imagine how the pitch for “Non-Stop,” the latest action thriller starring Liam Neeson, went down. “Okay, guys, how about this? It’s ‘Taken,’ but on an airplane!”
The surprise is that “Non-Stop” not only could have been a sequel to “Taken,” but it’s also everything “Taken 2” should have been. The film finds Neeson is a familiar role in a plot that mixes together elements of “Air Force One,” “Flightplan,” and various Hitchcockian thrillers. While this sort of thing has been done before, the result is just fresh enough to standout from all the rest.
Neeson plays Bill Marks, a former cop turned U.S. air marshal. Like all authority figures in these types of movies, he’s gruff, unethical, an alcoholic, and, of course, has a tortured past. On a seemingly routine flight from New York to London, Marks gets a text from a stranger demanding $150 million. The text messaging baddie threatens to kill a passenger every 20 minutes until the money is transferred to his account. Marks soon finds that the threat is incredibly real and the villain is setting him up to take the fall.
Neeson has played this character so many times before that he’s on the verge of becoming a walking cliché. In a way, Neeson actually appeared to be parodying himself as a good cop/bad cop in “The Lego Movie.” Although he might not be broadening his horizons, Neeson still packs a punch as a smart, gutsy man doing his best to protect everyone else on board while attempting to single out one person as the culprit. It additionally helps that Neeson is given a first-rate supporting cast to work with.
Julianne Moore is wonderful as a fellow passenger who comes off as an obnoxious snob at first, but becomes one of Marks’ greatest allies in unraveling the mystery. Michelle Dockery of “Downton Abbey” is just as effective as a flight attendant caught up in an increasingly chaotic situation. We also get some nice work from Oscar winner Lupita Nyong’o as a fellow stewardess and Corey Stoll as a New York police officer who suspects there’s more going on than meets the eye. Director Jaume Collet-Serra, along with screenwriters John W. Richardson, Christopher Roach, and Ryan Engle, all do a fine job at naturally establishing these characters through visuals as opposed to lazy expositional dialog.
“Non-Stop” doesn’t treat its audience like idiots, although the film is undeniably implausible. The bad guy’s motivations for hijacking the plane are particularly ridiculous. But unlike “3 Days to Kill,” “Getaway,” “White House Down,” or some other recent action pictures, it’s easy to forgive the film’s improbability since the action, suspense, and plot are so well paced. This is a movie that requires the audience to suspend their disbelief at the gate. If you’re willing to get on board, you’ll have an enormously entertaining time and be glad you just went along for the ride.
• Ahwatukee native and Desert Vista graduate Nick Spake is a student at Arizona State University. He has been working as a film critic for five years, reviewing movies on his website, NICKPICKSFLICKS.com. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.