In a way, Liam Neeson has done the “reverse McConaughey” in that he went from being a semi serious dramatic actor to a genre star (in this case, action). His trajectory is doubly remarkable when you consider that the guy is 61 years old.
It’s funny because, since the glory days of Stallone, Willis, and Schwarzenegger, the movies been searching for the new go-to action hero. Various young men have been trotted out—Ryan Reynolds, Chris Pine, Chris Evans—none quite sticking. So Neeson’s success is a bit like a Viagra ad: You want something done, ask an old guy to do it.
And why not? Liam Neeson is a commanding physical presence, with a deep voice, and—helpful!—actual acting chops. I still prefer the “sensitive Liam” of Husbands and Wives and Love Actually, but that’s just a personal preference.
In Non-Stop—which I have also dubbed Lady Mary on a Plane— Neeson plays a variation on his new persona—basically a badass who is also a good guy. Here, he’s Air Marshal Bill Marks who’s on a flight to Norway when he receives an anonymous text message: Put $130 million into a bank account or one person on the plane will die every 20 minutes. (Although there’s a lot of text messaging in this film—and even a few autofills!—there are no hilarious autocorrect snafus, a la “One person on this plane will diet every 20 minutes”—alas).
Marks has to figure out who the texts are coming from and try to stop them. Then there’s a minor twist: That account number the bad guy left? It’s in Marks’ name. Ground control thinks he’s the hijacker. The pilot and co-pilot and various flight attendants—including yes, Michelle Dockery (aka Lady Mary) and Lupita Nyong’o (pre-12 Years a Slave fame so mostly as eye candy here)—aren’t sure. Everyone’s a suspect, including Julianne Moore as an overly game, slightly tipsy passenger who takes a shining to Marks and Corey Stoll (of House of Cards) as a bellicose New York cop on the flight.
I absolutely loved the ingenious way the first passenger died (of course, I won’t give it away here) and the film kept me guessing all the way through. Unfortunately, when the big reveal comes it’s so far-fetched, you’d have to suspend your belief way past cruising altitude to buy it.
Airplane movies are a risky proposition because you’re trapped in the sky with no escape. In the case of Non-Stop, that’s mostly a good thing.