** (out of four)
After kicking Albanian butt in the “Taken” franchise, battling Alaskan wolves in “The Grey” and confronting a killer over the Atlantic in “Non-Stop,” Liam Neeson officially has become the go-to protector for Americans in hostile, isolated locations. Soon the action star probably will tunnel into Mexico to rescue his niece from a gang of kidnapper squirrels.
Wait. I didn’t see “The Nut Job,” the animated flick in which Neeson voiced a raccoon. If that’s what happened, please let me know so I can catch up.
Something you can wait on or skip entirely is “Non-Stop,” which might have been an unsettling thriller of security concerns in a post-9/11 world—if it made sense. Neeson plays federal air marshal Bill Marks, who of course has a drinking problem and fear of takeoffs. Neeson heroes are relentless but not invulnerable, people.
On a non-stop flight from New York to London—the premise doesn’t work if the plane stops in Philly—Bill receives texts from an unidentified passenger claiming someone on board will die every 20 minutes until $150 million has been transferred. This might be a fun situation with a few auto-correct errors (“I need more limes!”) or added tension once Bill, suddenly the prime suspect, discovers the killer’s account is in his name.
Despite his weaknesses and debatable problem-solving tactics, this guy doesn’t have two sides like Neeson’s Good Cop/Bad Cop in “The Lego Movie.” Bill’s an ineffective peacekeeper and blatantly temporary victim in “Non-Stop,” which co-stars Julianne Moore and Lupita Nyong’o (“12 Years a Slave”) and is helmed by Jaume Collet-Serra, who also directed Neeson in the even more ridiculous “Unknown.” This flick also recalls the likewise forgettable “Red Eye” and “Flightplan”—just add popcorn for a mini-film fest of rentable, plane-related entertainment that’s not as smart or scary as you hope.
Did I play mental hopscotch with the suspects, imagining possible motives? Of course. The enjoyment in a movie like this comes from wondering what’s going on (not from the massive quantity of characters asking what’s going on). Seeing it at the end of a long day puts your brain in the proper snooze mode of limited judgment.
Still, “Non-Stop” involves countless plot holes and vague topicality that’s tossed in instead of deconstructed. If you’re going to try to make a statement with a PG-13-rated Liam Neeson thriller, just make the statement, “Don’t [bleep] with Liam Neeson, chump.”
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