The journey is the destination in "Non-Stop," a fast-paced thriller set 35,000 feet in the air. The story of a man trying to outwit a murderous mastermind during a trans-Atlantic flight, "Non-Stop" may be a tad derivative -- you could call it "Sky Hard" -- and its ending crash-lands in more ways than one. When all its engines are firing, however, it's a heck of a ride.
We're in good hands with Liam Neeson, the appealingly blunt action figure of the "Taken" movies, here playing Bill Marks, a U.S. air marshal on a New York-to-London flight. Marks is commanding, capable and slightly damaged: He drinks too much and smokes in the bathroom. His fear of flying (!) gets a little worse when he receives a text message from someone threatening to kill one passenger every 20 minutes until $150 million is wired to an offshore account.
Suddenly, everyone's a suspect, from the passengers (Julianne Moore plays Jen, a woman who requests the seat next to Marks) to the crew (Oscar-nominated Lupita Nyong'o appears briefly as a flight attendant).
There's a lot to admire in this genre flick, beginning with the nifty premise. The screenwriters (all three of them) make their seemingly impossible plot work with a combination of clever twists, red herrings and the occasional broken law of physics. (Can two men fit in an airplane lavatory, let alone brawl in one?) The movie repeats itself, but that's forgivable: There are only so many ways to get away with murder in coach.
"Non-Stop" also deserves credit for fully embracing technology. Many thrillers find ways to disable or simply ignore plot-killing cellphones, but "Non-Stop" couldn't exist without them. Most of the taunts between Marks and his adversary aren't spoken but texted, and director Jaume Collet-Serra (the 2011 Neeson vehicle "Unknown") finds an aesthetically appealing way to float their dialogue balloons onto the screen. (A prediction about the popularity of texting: At this rate, we'll be back to reading title cards in silent movies.)
The attacks of Sept. 11 figure into "Non-Stop" in ways that can be clever but may strike some as a little glib. Still, "Non-Stop" is fun, disposable entertainment. It would actually be perfect for an in-flight movie.
PLOT On a trans-Atlantic flight, a U.S. air marshal must stop an unseen terrorist from killing one passenger every 20 minutes.
RATING PG-13 (action violence, smoking)
CAST Liam Neeson, Julianne Moore, Lupita Nyong'o
BOTTOM LINE Quick pacing and the always-dependable Neeson help guide this nifty thriller through some rough spots. It's disposable, good fun.