NON-STOP (Rated PG-13)
The business of being an action hero is not the exclusive domain of younger actors.
The slogan “Old Guys Rule” is not just for baseball caps and T-shirts worn by card-carrying AARP members who are not necessarily physically fit specimens.
The “old guys” are now ruling as tough guys with a purpose, namely meting out justice or payback. Kevin Costner demonstrated his machismo in “3 Days to Kill,” and now Liam Neeson is acting out toughness in the airborne-thriller “Non-Stop.”
In recent years, with films like “Unknown” and the “Taken” franchise, Neeson has morphed into a kick-ass tough guy hell-bent on dishing out punishing vengeance to all sorts of malevolent players deserving a severe beat-down.
Another key element in evidence for the older action heroes is that typically they are essentially flawed characters, or at least they have lived long enough to have accumulated a fair share of emotional baggage.
That’s certainly the case for Liam Neeson’s tortured Bill Marks, a federal air marshal struggling with personal demons that seemingly have drained him of any passion for the heroic calling of his profession.
On a gloomy day at the airport parking lot in New York, we first glimpse Marks mustering the will, if not desire, to report for duty on a transatlantic flight. He takes a few swigs of scotch followed by squirts of breath freshener.
“Non-Stop” is pure suspense and action. It’s also the story of a man in need of redemption. By all appearances, Marks has given up on life. The alcoholic ex-NYPD cop is merely going through the motions, but for a routine flight, he’s definitely on edge.
During the check-in and boarding process, Marks, though bleary-eyed but still sharp, encounters some fellow passengers who will soon become quite familiar. Like him, we may find ourselves formulating some judgments about potential danger ahead.
Shortly into the flight to London, Marks begins receiving text messages over the plane’s secure network, demanding that he force the airline, a fictional British carrier, to transfer $150 million into a secret offshore account lest a passenger be killed every 20 minutes.
Clearly up against a clever yet psychotic adversary, Marks has to figure out the source of the taunting threats. Another air marshal (Anson Mount) on board is not helpful, as he dismisses Marks as a delusional drunk.
Not on friendly terms with the pilots, Marks finds his only trustworthy ally is flight attendant Nancy (Michelle Dockery). In addition, he initially believes his seatmate Jen Summers (Julianne Moore) above suspicion because at least she isn’t texting.
While most passengers appear to be ordinary folks, there are others that look shifty. One promising terrorist suspect is the Muslim doctor (Omar Metwally), but he’s an obvious diversion. Other shady-looking types sweat too profusely or twitch nervously.
The story’s puzzle elements evoke classic Hitchcock whodunits, which is all the more exciting and suspenseful due to the claustrophobic nature of the action being contained in a vessel traveling at the speed of 500 miles with no escape possible.
The greatest twist, of course, is that suspicion is eventually cast upon the air marshal, and it is up to Marks to use his wits to fight an unseen enemy and to combat the false impressions that have come to the attention of the authorities.
Without giving away any of the surprises in store, suffice it to say that a few people are killed early on, mostly as a device to throw more suspicion upon Marks as the culprit.
The killer is somewhere on the plane and the audience is just as unaware of the person’s identity as the air marshal. Indeed, although there are a number of red herrings, the discovery of who is behind the crimes is left to the very end.
“Non-Stop,” though often preposterous, is a heart-pounding ride and a visual spectacle that puts the audience on the edge of its seat. Not knowing who to trust, you are left suspecting everyone.
You wonder about the surly Austin (Corey Stoll), who identifies himself as a NYPD cop but comes across as too anxious. What about the nerdy Tom Bowen (Scott McNairy), a true oddball? Zack (Nate Parker) may be too handy with his computer expertise.
A compelling presence, Liam Neeson gets a decent share of physical confrontations that reveal his dogged resilience as a credible action figure, but much of the battle is fought on a psychological front where wits are more vital than brawn.
“Non-Stop” is a thrill ride, pure and simple, with plenty of nerve-racking suspense. If you enjoyed Liam Neeson’s relentless quest for vengeance in “Taken,” you will find comfort here in his serious pursuit of justice.
Tim Riley writes film and television reviews for Lake County News.