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U.S. Air Marshal Bill Marks (Liam Neeson) must stop passengers from being killed following a ransom demand. Photo courtesy of Universal Pictures
U.S. Air Marshal Bill Marks (Liam Neeson) must stop passengers from being killed following a ransom demand. Photo courtesy of Universal Pictures
Arts Rancho Santa Fe

Film review: No need to board ‘Non-Stop’

“Non-Stop” is a passable airplane thriller, designed to entertain while up in the air and to be forgotten once disembarking.

Bill Marks (Liam Neeson), a U.S. air marshal, has booked a transatlantic flight from New York City to London, but no sooner does the airplane take off than he receives a series of ominous text messages.

The unknown sender demands that the airline transfer $150 million into an off-shore account, or else a passenger will be killed every 20 minutes. And if that’s not bad enough news, the bank account is under Bill’s name, which raises suspicions about him being a possible hijacker.

I’ve seen my share of memorable airplane thrillers — “Executive Decision” and “Red Eye” — and “Non-Stop” is not one of them. That doesn’t mean it fails to provide the viewer with a fuselage of popcorn fun, but it’s unlikely to be flown again after landing on the tarmac.

Let’s face the facts, as a thriller, “Non-Stop” possesses the genre’s inherent suspense, equipped to take moviegoers on a dangerous flight. But somehow, the tension lacks the strength to truly immerse the audience in what is supposed to be a claustrophobic, nerve-racking situation.

Of course, the film’s premise sounds intriguing and guarantees a solid thrill ride, yet only delivers half the goods from the manifest.

I think the sporadic moments of faulty logic contributed to reducing the film’s threat level from serious to mild — and there is no shortage of reasons. Some of the “covert” methods used to kill passengers don’t make sense as the plot unfolds; the perpetrators’ motivations are vague and inadequate, and the idea of framing Neeson with a bank account under his name has no organic feel.

In the end, the cat-and-mouse game’s effectiveness diminishes as the abundance of illogic hampers the film’s ability to work as a suspenseful story.

Speaking of perpetrators, the menace conveyed via text messages is superficial despite claims of being serious. And whatever threat they pose to Neeson, the flight attendants and passengers ceases to be of any genuine concern once the climax emerges.

Liam Neeson is in subdued mode here, so don’t expect any “Taken” moves at high altitudes. In fact, I can’t help but wonder if the confined environment worked against his performance.

His air marshal protagonist is mostly a functional tool used to propel the film forward, and his background feels too much like puzzle pieces arranged in a haphazard manner.

As for Julianne Moore, who is usually an engaging presence, she ends up being let down by the mediocre script, and doesn’t get the chance to fully elucidate the troubles her character has to put up with during this crisis.

The remainder of the cast, whose faces may be familiar to some — Michelle Dockery (“Downton Abbey”), Nate Parker (“Red Tails”), Scoot McNairy (“Argo” and “Killing Them Softly”), Corey Stoll (“House of Cards”) – doesn’t stand out.

I blame the script’s lack of proper character development for this shortcoming; then again, when you have Neeson as the lead, it’s difficult to acknowledge the others in their seats and not focus your attention on him.

I imagine theaters will be swarming with fans of Neeson’s action star status — the kind of people who are eager to watch the grizzled Irish actor do his thing. Besides, it’s going to be another two months before the giant summer blockbusters arrive, and there are audience members who need to eat their fill of action-packed thrills regardless of quality.

So, is “Non-Stop” worth the admission? If you are hungry for mindless entertainment of the patchiest quality and want to purchase your boarding pass, then by all means board this flight.

If you want your popcorn movie to contain coherent logic, engrossing suspense, and polished characters, then you might want to skip this one and wait for it to become available on Netflix.

MPAA rating: PG-13 for intense sequences of action and violence, some language, sensuality and drug references.

Run time: 1 hour and 46 minutes

Playing: In general release