THERE seems to be no stopping Liam Neeson's late-career surge into the action-hero genre. After his surprising success as a soft-spoken, hard-nosed security expert in the Taken series, he gets another outing as a gun-toting good guy in Non-Stop, an airborne adventure that's part whodunnit, part psychological thriller and total nonsense.
At 61, Neeson is less of a smart-ass than Bruce Willis and a kinder, gentler version of Jason Statham. He's not a conventional action hero - his role as Rob Roy (1995) notwithstanding - but he projects a quiet confidence and an inner calm that is believable and goes down well with global audiences.
Non-Stop, or Die Hard on a Plane, tries to tweak a predictable narrative by giving the hero a set of weaknesses, and also by concealing the identity of the villain via a silly plot device involving text messages. To convey a sense of unease among the audience, the movie takes place within the familiar confines of a commercial airliner - albeit one in which a lot of killing goes on.
When we're first introduced to Bill Marks (Neeson), he's unshaven, glassy-eyed and gulping hard liquor in his car. His demeanour is a little scary - naturally, Marks is an air marshal about to board a flight from New York to London. At the airport, he has a series of random encounters with different people, all of whom end up on his flight, of course.
It's a bad time for him but he shapes up in time to assist a little girl on her first flight. Bill helps to soothe her nerves - his own are shaky at best - but not long after takeoff, he's forced to react when he receives a series of text messages from an unidentified fellow passenger, threatening to kill someone aboard the plane every 20 minutes, unless a wire transfer of US$150 million is made.
He's anxious to locate the perpetrator, especially one who knows his dirty little secrets, and more so when people start to die. The plane is full of potential suspects but the main suspect it seems is Marks himself - his imperfect past and his unstable behaviour are prime indicators, and the villain is pushing all the right buttons to get him in trouble.
When it transpires that there's a bomb aboard, Marks tries to take control of the situation but his actions could also be perceived as being hostile - especially since the bank account for the money transfer is in his name. "I'm trying to save this plane," he says while waving a gun in the passenger cabin. His friends and possible foes include a flight attendant (Michelle Dockery), a chatty frequent flyer (Julianne Moore), a New-York cop (Corey Stoll), a nerdy type (Scoot McNairy) and a Muslim doctor (Omar Metwally).
Non-Stop, directed by Jaume Collet-Serra and written by John W Richardson, Chris Roach and Ryan Engle, plays mind games on Marks and the audience, but the storyline is simply too contrived and unbelievable to make any impact.
Marks is required to display his powers of deduction and close-combat skills but no matter how damaged a person or proficient he may be at his job, there's no stopping that feeling that we're simply being taken for a ride here.