Passenger airplanes are a perfect environment for taut, edge-of-seat(belt) thrillers.
The setting is confined and claustrophobic, the passengers excited and nervous, and the recycled air thick with tension and the waft of pre-packaged food.
Non-Stop continues the big screen bumpy ride by pitting an emotionally scarred, booze-sodden Federal Air Marshall (Liam Neeson) against a deranged serial killer during a transatlantic flight from New York to London.
Any of the 146 passengers could be the killer or the next victim, and the three screenwriters have fun at our expense by keeping us guessing who, if anyone, will survive the airborne slaughter.
While the premise is neat and the action sequences orchestrated with aplomb by Spanish director Jaume Collet-Serra, the script hits severe turbulence when it comes to plausibility. There are several, unintentional, guffaws including stereotyping by TV news stations following the story, who discover the hero harks from Irish stock.
Bill Marks (Neeson) boards a busy flight, trading knowing glances with friends and colleagues.
As the lights dim to allow passengers to sleep, Marks receives a series of cryptic messages via a secure channel on his handheld device.
‘In exactly 20 minutes, I’m going to kill someone on this plane,’ boasts the sender.
To prevent bloodshed, all Marks must do is transfer 150 million dollars to an off-shore account before the deadline expires.
Captain David McMillan (Linus Roache) and co-pilot Kyle Rice (Jason Butler Harner) are sceptical about the authenticity of the threat. Alas, the puppetmaster’s threat becomes chilling reality and Marks spearheads a gung-ho one-man crusade to unmask the terrorist in his midst.
Prime suspects include seasoned traveller Jenn Summers (Julianne Moore), off-duty NYPD officer Austin Reilly (Corey Stoll), school teacher Tom Bowen (Scoot McNairy), technical wizard Zack White (Nate Parker) and air stewardess Gwen (Lupita Nyong’o).
Non-Stop almost lives up to its name in terms of thrills and spills, and Collet-Serra makes light work of the 106-minute running time.
Alas, the clunkiness of the script ultimately sends the film into a tailspin and the histrionics of the final act feel rushed and unsatisfying.
Neeson continues his renaissance as a grizzled yet sensitive action hero.
Supporting performances are adequate, hampered by a paucity of character development, and some of the twists demand we suspend disbelief far above the doomed flight in the stratosphere.