Updated: February 27, 2014 at 9:50 am
Starring Liam Neeson, Julianne Moore, Michelle Dockery, Linus Roache; directed by Jaume Collet- Serra; 1 hour, 44 minutes; PG-13 for intense sequences of action and violence, some language, sensuality and drug references; C-
The label "durable" as in "durable leading man" has never fit Liam Neeson more than it does in these late-career action pictures that have become his bread and butter since "Taken."
He still looks like he can take a beating, and so he does. He looks as if he can administer one or two, so he does. He looks like he might have "particular skills," his character's famous self-description in "Taken." And he proves it.
In "Non-Stop," those skills would be those of a U.S. air marshal. His Bill Marks is a drinker and a smoker, a sad-eyed man who doesn't like to fly but still does this dangerous job for a living. And Neeson makes us believe in this guy, first frame to last.
"Non-Stop" is a solid, workmanlike action picture that builds slowly, bends over backwards to over-explain itself and its villain, and delivers a lulu of an ending.
Somebody is threatening the 150 passengers and crew on Marks' cellphone. In the wee hours of this red eye from New York to London, that first text arrives on his "secure" phone. "In exactly 20 minutes, I'm going to kill someone on this plane."
Julianne Moore plays a helpful passenger sitting next to him. Michelle Dockery (of "Downton Abbey") is the flight attendant who trusts him with their lives. Linus Roache is the pilot who's willing to hear Marks out.
"Orphan" director Jaume Collet-Serra does a little better by Neeson here than he managed with the identity-theft thriller "Unknown." Jumpy, unbroken tracking shots follow him through the confined space of the plane. Brawls in the confined spaces of a jetliner - a lavatory, for instance - are thrillingly staged and edited.
But tension is in short supply as we lurch toward that aforementioned lulu of a finale. The red herrings, throwing us off the scent of who is pulling the strings, are well-thought out; the resolution, not so much.
But Neeson, at 61, is proving to be a more reliable action hero than any of his peers. Grizzled, wrinkled with care and worry, he's so real that he makes the somewhat unreal film surrounding him more grounded than "Non-Stop" has any right to be.
Roger Moore, McClatchy Newspapers