Three things you want in an airline crisis: drop-down oxygen mask, floatation device and Liam Neeson beside you. Give him the aisle seat, for easier access to whatever he needs to slap, shoot or seethe into submission. He didn't get that nose from sniffing roses.
Neeson keeps viewers in an upright position for much of Non-Stop, an in-flight thriller barreling through credibility to keep its confined crisis aloft. Yet for each "yeah, right" moment director Jaume Collet-Serra tries sneaking by, there's another scrapping guesses of what happens next. Non-Stop is a mystery staying that way long enough that the slapdash solution isn't as bothersome.
Neeson plays Bill Marks, a typical movie cop with personal demons except he's an air marshal and we don't see many of those. Some of Bill's issues are revealed early (alcoholism, takeoff anxiety, work demerits) and others during a torrent of TMI exposition at an unlikely moment. Bill's monitoring a trans-Atlantic flight when he's texted by a passenger promising someone on the plane will die every 20 minutes until $150 million is deposited into an offshore account.
The who will die and how behind that threat intrigues, and is tapdanced around by Collet-Serra and three screenwriters. If airline passengers could stretch like Non-Stop's logic everyone would be flying first class. No spoilers but the first twist is left-field clever, raising hopes of another like it that aren't fulfilled, but the effort entertains. Non-Stop mostly works by being aware of what other jet-in-jeopardy flicks have done before, adding a spin here and there. Nothing Hitchcockian but more ambitious than a Neeson action flick needs to be.
Non-Stop has a decent list of suspicious or helpful characters on board. Julianne Moore plays Jen Summers, Bill's seatmate with her own carry-on emotional baggage. Corey Stoll (House of Cards) makes the most of his role as an off-duty cop wanting answers. A Muslim passenger (Omar Metwally) and an African-American youth (Corey Hawkins) are cagily framed for audience profiling until identities and motives are revealed. You get the feeling Oscar favorite Lupita Nyong'o (12 Years a Slave) will quickly forget her underwritten flight attendant role.
Mostly there's Neeson doing what he does profitably these days, glaring and growling through tight spots made to seem a little less preposterous by his presence. Other action heroes are sprier, more handsome or ripped but these days nobody snaps a neck better.
Steve Persall can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8365. Follow @StevePersall on Twitter.