Think of Liam Neeson as the Cialis of action heroes. The Boomers needed one and there was Neeson, ready to step into the breach, lose the occasional daughter, thwart the occasional bad guy, overcome the insurmountable odds and now -- in “Non-Stop,” a.k.a “Taken 3” -- make transatlantic travel more of a nightmare than it already was. Don’t expect to see this thriller from Spanish director Jaume Collet-Serra (of Neeson's “Unknown”) on a plane anytime soon. Unless you’re flying Air Anxiety.
For all its high-tech accoutrements, “Non-Stop” is a locked-room mystery of the Agatha Christie stripe, except that the locked room is an “Aquatlantic” flight to London and the culprit is threatening by text message to kill someone on board every 20 minutes. Unless of course $150 million is deposited in a numbered account, blah blah blah. Those messages are being received by William Marks (Neeson), an alcoholic air marshal who hates flying, has family issues, may be paranoid and is being set up as the fall guy for an artfully executed scheme that can’t possibly be happening, but is happening nonetheless.
Like a lot of these things, i.e. high-concept caper movies, “Non-Stop” has a graceful takeoff, and then stumbles around trying to get off the plane; the implausibilities pile up faster than those little liquor bottles in business class. But Neeson is consistent, sympathetic and manly, even if at one point he has to make a speech to the assembled passengers, confessing every pitfall of his personal history as he tries to enlist their support for finding and stopping the airborne evildoers. You half expect them to conclude with the Serenity Prayer.
The plotline is a series of surprises and there’s little to be gained by explaining them, but Collet-Serra goes above and beyond in getting us into the story, including the security-line/boarding sequence in which the passengers are profiling each other -- and so are we: The one obviously Muslim flier gets the once over from everyone, even William, and while viewers are expected to look askance at all this, they’ll be questioning their own reactions, too. Julianne Moore, as William’s seatmate-cum-ally Jen, is a refreshing counterweight to Neesonian solemnity and while “Downton Abbey’s” Michelle Dockery (Lady Mary) and Lupita Nyong’o of “12 Years a Slave” don’t do a lot (they’re flight attendants, after all) they’re endlessly polite, which just goes to show what a fantasy “Non-Stop” is.