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‘Non-Stop’: Liam Neeson earns his wings

In “Non-Stop” federal air marshal (Liam Neeson) tries find perssending messages threatening kill passenger every 20 minutes. He carries day

In “Non-Stop,” a federal air marshal (Liam Neeson) tries to find the person sending messages threatening to kill a passenger every 20 minutes. He carries the day even as the events become increasing implausible. | UNIVERSAL PICTURES

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‘NON-STOP’ ★★★

Bill Marks Liam Neeson

Jen Summers Julianne Moore

Gwen Lupita Nyong’o

Nancy Michelle Dockery

Universal Pictures presents a film directed by Jaume Collet-Serra and written by John W. Richardson, Chris Roach and Ryan Engle. Running time: 107 minutes. Rated PG-13 (for intense sequences of action and violence, some language, sexuality and drug references). Opens Friday at local theaters.

Updated: April 1, 2014 9:49AM



If only Kevin Costner’s grizzled, troubled, bad-father, tragedy-marred antihero killing machine of a veteran CIA agent from “Three Days to Kill” had been on board this “Non-Stop” flight, he could have crossed paths with Liam Neeson’s grizzled, troubled, bad-father, tragedy-marred antihero killing machine of a veteran federal air marshal. Now that would have been something.

They could have had a steely-eyed, old-timey movie star stare-off, right there in business class.

For the second time in two weeks, we have a genre thriller starring a veteran actor who plays it oh so straight and carries the day, even as the events around him become increasingly implausible to the point of daring the audience to chuckle. But for the second time in two weeks, I can’t pretend the checklist of clichés didn’t tickle me, and I was greatly entertained by the terrific performances from the ensemble cast of familiar movie actors and faces from hit TV shows.

The genre this time around is the hijacking thriller, with nearly all of the action taking place on a nonstop flight from New York to London.

Liam Neeson, aka Liam the Great, continues his late, middle-age run as the baddest action hero on the planet. He’s federal air marshal Bill Marks, who sits in his vehicle at the airport, slugs down some whiskey and gets lost in his own thoughts as he gazes at a photo of a young girl, presumably his daughter. Yup, that’s just the kind of guy you want carrying a badge and a gun on an international flight.

Director Jaume Collet-Serra does a nimble job of introducing us to the varied cast of characters on the plane, keeping us guessing as to whether their knowing glances or whispered conversations mean they’re good guys or potential terrorists. And what an eclectic, fascinating bunch it is!

The flight attendants are played by Lupita Nyong’o, Oscar nominated for “12 Years A Slave,” and Michelle Dockery, best known as Lady Mary on “Downton Abbey.” How awesome is it to see Lady Mary, I mean Nancy the flight attendant, serving chamomile tea to a passenger, and sucking at it?

A few hours after takeoff, Bill starts receiving messages on what is supposed to be a secure line. Someone claiming to be on board says he’ll kill a passenger every 20 minutes if Bill doesn’t do exactly what he says.

Here we go.

Sprinkled among the passengers whose only job is to pretend to be asleep during the quiet scenes and panic when all hell breaks loose, we have: Julianne Moore as a mysterious woman who avoids questions about what she does and angles for a seat next to Bill on the plane; Corey Stoll from the Netflix series “House of Cards” as a New York cop; Omar Metwally as Dr. Fahim Nasir, whose very appearance arouses the suspicions of some of the passengers; Anson Mount as a second air marshal on the flight who’s behaving erratically, and about a half-dozen other characters who might be sending Bill those threatening messages.

The screenplay (credited to a multitude of writers) at times goes for shameless sentimentality, especially in the scenes involving a little girl who reminds Bill of his daughter. But there are also some pretty nifty plot twists, many of them dependent on the 21st century technology that would allow somebody on board a plane to take an iPhone video of a man waving a gun and send it to a New York television station. (And here I’m happy if my Gogo inflight Internet connection is solid enough for me catch up on my emails.)

Julianne Moore is her usual wonderful self as Bill’s seatmate, whose either his best ally or his worst enemy. Michelle Dockery at least has something resembling a character to play, whereas Lupita Nyong’o has about six lines, most of them variations on, “What is HAPPENING?”

There’s a good measure of comedic relief doled out between the action sequences, e.g., Neeson coming up with an ingenious plan to placate the passengers when they’re on the verge of a rebellion. This is a movie that know it’s not to be taken too seriously.

We believe even a 60ish, alcoholic, emotionally troubled Liam Neeson can whip bad guys half his age at hand-to-hand combat. He’s Liam Neeson. He took on all those wolves in “The Gray.” He gives great telephone when Eurotrash villains kidnap his family members in the “Taken” movies. He’s not to be messed with.

Following a flight plan similar to “Air Force One,” “Passenger 57,” “Die Hard 2” and “Executive Decision,” this is yet another hijack movie in which the setup, the guessing game and the mid-movie action sequences are better than the payoff. In the last 20 minutes or so, “Non-Stop” veers from the unlikely to the “Oh, come on!” to “You’ve got to be kidding me.”

One thing for sure. They’re never going to show this movie on a real New York-to-London flight.

But it’d be fun to watch the passengers’ reaction if they did.

Email: rroeper@suntimes.com

Twitter: @richardroeper



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