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I tend to enjoy films that primarily take place in one location, especially if that location is an airplane. When something bad begins to happen on a plane, there’s a sense of claustrophobia and urgency that can make for a great film. I also enjoy watching Liam Neeson turn himself into an action star. The 62 year old actor has been picking films that allow him to beat up on some bad guys and you can tell that he is having a great time. His latest film, Non-Stop, is a combination of both of these pleasures. It’s quite a thrill to watch Neeson on an airplane, trying to solve a mystery and kicking some serious butt along the way. It’s as ridiculous as you might expect, but even when the plot becomes contrived and silly, the film never loses its sense of fun.

Bill Marks (Liam Neeson) is a US air marshal and former New York police officer. He’s also an emotionally unstable alcoholic, drinking as much as he can before he gets on the plane and even requesting a gin and tonic upon takeoff. Once the plane is in the air, Marks receives a text message from an anonymous source. The messages inform Marks that someone on the plane will die every 20 minutes unless $150 million is transferred to a specific bank account. Marks realizes that whoever is sending these messages is located on the plane and he will need to race against the clock to discover the stranger and prevent any lives from being lost.

Along with Liam Neeson, the cast is full of familiar faces including Julianne Moore, Corey Stoll, Michelle Dockery, Scoot McNairy and even recent Oscar winner Lupita Nyong’o. Every single one of them is a potential suspect and the cast does whatever they can with their one dimensional characters. Neeson’s character is the only one that is remotely developed, but the troubled, alcoholic air marshal feels like a cliché. His backstory is pretty obvious and uninspired, particularly in the details involving his daughter. But Neeson somehow manages to bring the character to life. Starting with Taken, Neeson has essentially been playing the character over and over again, but he pulls it off every time. Neeson is the perfect actor to play the grizzled, aging action hero and he commands the screen this time around.

He’s the rare actor that can carry a film from beginning to end, even as the script grows more and more outlandish. Screenwriters John W. Richardson, Chris Roach and Ryan Engle set things up fairly believably, but by the time the third act rolls around, there have been so many outlandish developments that some viewers may scoff at the absurdity of it all. But even as the film began to grow sillier and sillier, I still found myself enjoying every minute of the film. A large part of this has to do with Neeson, who gives us a character to connect with, even as the plot grows preposterous. But it’s director Jaume Collet-Serra who makes sure that there isn’t a dull moment throughout. Perhaps the film could have been more atmospheric, but it looks good and it’s got a steady pace that builds to an exciting finale.

But perhaps the most commendable aspect of Non-Stop is that it’s got a great mystery that kept me on my toes all the way to the end. I spent the entire film trying to figure out who was texting Marks and I’m happy to say that I was unable to solve it before the reveal. Just when you think you’ve got it figured out, the filmmakers reveal that they’re a step ahead of the audience. It may not be as good as last year’s Prisoners, but the twists and red herrings will prevent most audience members from solving the mystery before they should. The ultimate reveal of the killer is a little underwhelming and the explanation of the motive doesn’t quite fit the rest of the film, but since the killer’s identity is kept a secret for so long, this is practically inevitable.

I had a lot of fun with Non-Stop and this seems to be what Neeson and Jaume Collet-Serra intended. Its plot may be ridiculous enough to laugh at, but its over the top sensibilities hold things together. This is nothing more than silly, popcorn entertainment and there’s nothing wrong with that. The film may get its title from the non-stop flight that the majority of the film takes place on, but it could also get its title from the non-stop thrills that permeate throughout this thing.

Non-Stop receives 3/4

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