By Robert Horton Herald Movie Critic
Do not doubt Liam Neeson. This lesson from the recent string of action movies starring the 61-year-old actor is reinforced by “Non-Stop,” a bang-up thriller with Neeson as the lone hope for a plane full of innocent passengers and a crazed hijacker.
Seriously: If I’m on a flight and bad stuff is going down, I want Liam Neeson there. Dude is so gigantic and forceful he looks like he could land the plane by carrying it on his shoulders.
In this one, he’s a federal air marshal who begins getting text messages from a maniac threatening to kill one passenger every 20 minutes. The hijacker wants 150 million bucks, but Neeson begins to suspect something else might be going on.
The movie gives Neeson something to play: His guy is alcoholic and depressed, with just enough backstory to make us wonder whether this might be an inside job.
Meanwhile, a gallery of suspects is presented. There’s a frequent flyer (Julianne Moore) insisting on a window seat, two flight attendants (Michelle Dockery from “Downton Abbey” and current “12 Years a Slave” Oscar nominee Lupita Nyong’o), a jittery nerd (Scoot McNairy), an angry NYPD cop (Corey Stoll), a doctor (Omar Metwally).
With the clock ticking and the plane over the Atlantic, director Jaume Collet-Serra has some built-in suspense going. He doesn’t do anything to screw it up.
The best movie Neeson has done in his post-“Taken” phase of bare-knuckle films is “The Grey,” that existential Arctic adventure. “Non-Stop” doesn’t hit that level, but it does benefit from its confined, pressure-cooker premise.
If the material is low-grade pulp, it is spiffed up by the high-grade cast — Julianne Moore is obviously over-qualified for this, but she gets a few moments going, and everybody else is in the swing of things.
But mostly it’s Neeson who makes even the dumb plot turns forgivable. He bulls his way through (no winks to the audience about how absurd this all is), and somehow it’s much more credible than it should be.
There’s one moment involving a fistfight, a loose gun and a dramatic drop in altitude that might’ve come straight out of a Saturday-afternoon cliffhanger serial. It’s ridiculous, but Liam Neeson pulls it off — so who am I to argue?
Liam Neeson brings his authority to another mostly unbelievable thriller — and he makes you buy it. He’s an air marshal aboard a flight that carries a maniac hijacker, which gives the movie a confined setting and a ticking clock. Julianne Moore co-stars.
Rated: PG-13 for violence.
Showing: Alderwood Mall, Everett Stadium, Galaxy Monroe, Marysville, Stanwood, Meridian, Woodinville, Cascade Mall.