Non-Stop ✮✮1/2

Snakes on a Plane

by Glenn Lovell

As if we didn’t already have enough to worry about in the not-so-friendly skies, along comes “Non-Stop” to play on our post-9/11 fears of some whack-job skyjacking a commercial airliner to exact further political revenge.

And if this isn’t baldly manipulative enough for you, the creative team behind this new mystery-thriller also tosses a renegade Air Marshal into the mix and teases, “What if the people paid to protect you are really terrorists in disguise?”

Liam Neeson at his grim, world-weary best plays William Marks, a former land-cop-turned-sky-cop who, in the name of aviation safety, breaks all sorts of federal laws, including belting back a few before a red-eye from New York to London and, once aloft, smoking in the lavatory.

A hopeless white-knuckle flyer, Marks is the last guy you’d look to for reassurance when serious turbulence strikes.

“Non-Stop” comes with at least as many suspects as frightened passengers. Think of it as “Ten Little Indians” at 30,000 feet. Things imagesget rolling when Marks receives a text message asking, “How do you kill someone on a crowded plane and get away with it?” Of course we soon find out as the psycho, who’s demanding $150 million, delivers on his/her threat in various ingenious methods.

The niftiest part of this airborne game of cat-and-mouse: Marks, always his own worst enemy, quickly becomes the No. 1 suspect.

Directed by Jaume Collet-Serra, responsible for the seriously creepy “Orphan” and the somewhat less convincing “Unknown,” also starring Neeson, “Non-Stop” does a nice job of milking both the claustrophobia of the confined space and the growing paranoia as the camera sweeps from one suspicious-looking face to another. Who’s sending the threatening texts? Is it the Chatty Cathy in the next seat (Julianne Moore), the nosy high school teacher (Scott McNairy), the helpful flight attendant (“Downton Abbey’s” Michelle Dockery), the computer programmer (Nat Parker), the querulous cop (“House of Card’s” Corey Stoll) or the Muslim doctor (Omar Metwally) who mouths the hoariest of disaster-movie expletives: “Oh God, we’re all going to die!”?

Neeson remains unique among our recent batch of action heroes in that he combines a lean, sinewy physicality with dewy-eyed sentimentality. Unlike, say, Harrison Ford and Bruce Willis, whose salad days have come and gone, Neeson can take time out from the rough stuff to reassure a little girl who has misplaced her teddy ‒ and he still seems in charge. Unfortunately, his latest vehicle weighs a little too heavily on the touchy-feely side. Midflight, Marks does public penance with a “I’m not a good father” confession that’s more deadly than a tick-tick-ticking bomb.

NON-STOP ✮✮1/2 With Liam Neeson, Julianne Moore, Scott McNairy, Michelle Dockery, Corey Stoll, Nat Parker, Omar Metwally. Directed by Jaume Collet-Serra; scripted by John W. Richardson, Christopher Roach, Ryan Engle. 106 min. PG-13 (for profanity, intense hand-to-hand combat, shootings)

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