Bill Marks (Liam Neeson) cuts a pitiable figure in this delightfully trashy thriller: three-day stubble, dishevelled clothes, boozy breath. Bill draws plenty of wary eyes as he walks through an American airport to catch a flight to the UK, but not from the security agents, who barely give him a second look. That’s because this towering sad sack is a federal air marshal, the one assigned to guard the plane.
You surely know where this is all heading, and director Jaume Collet-Serra, who previously worked with Neeson on the amnesiac 2011 Euro-thriller ‘Unknown’, doesn’t waste time with the getting-to-know-yous. No sooner has Marks settled beside inquisitive seatmate Jen (Julianne Moore, having a blast) than he gets a series of texts from a mystery terrorist who promises to kill one passenger every 20 minutes until they receive $150 million.
The set-up is dynamite and the follow-through entertainingly dumb. It’s a pleasure to watch Neeson work an alcohol-addled variation on the imposing asskicker he’s been cultivating since 2008’s ‘Taken’. Marks has a very particular set of skills that leaves plenty of necks and noses broken, but he also has a hard-luck backstory (confessed in a grin-inducing scene that manages to be both silly and sublime), giving him just the right amount of gravitas.
Collet-Serra fills the plane with a variety of eclectic faces – everyone from Lupita Nyong’o ('12 Years a Slave') to increasingly everywhere character actor Corey Stoll (‘The Bourne Legacy’). He also makes terrific use of his set, deftly rendering close-quarters smackdowns and several expertly executed one-shots.
If only the climax lived up to the tense first two-thirds. Let’s just say that ‘Non-Stop’ reaches for some pointed post-9/11 political commentary that almost entirely exceeds its grasp. Total brainlessness, in this case, would have been a better call.