Call this a contemporary version of the Agatha Christie parlour mystery.
Except it's not so much a whodunit as a who-is-doing-it? And instead of the Orient Express, most of the action takes place on a trans-Atlantic jetliner, where designated air marshal Bill Marks (Liam Neeson) is barely holding it together, even before the plane takes off. We find him in his car at the airport, taking a few calming slugs of whisky before boarding a flight to London.
Once aboard, Bill sits next to cute, more-or-less age-appropriate redhead Jen (Julianne Moore), who attempts to calm him during takeoff. (Yes, this particular air marshal is afraid of flying.)
But before long, Bill is obliged to get down to the business of protecting airline customers when he receives a text from an anonymous terrorist who demands $150 million or he will start executing a passenger every 20 minutes. After consultation with the plane's captain (Linus Roache), Bill first assumes the threat may be a hoax. But after a couple of deaths, he is forced into action.
After a few selected acts of mayhem, however, his fellow passengers aren't so sure that Bill himself isn't the guy who's hijacking the plane, a suspicion borne out by the fact that the $150-million ransom, it is discovered, would be deposited in an account under Marks's own name.
Directed by Jaume Collet-Serra (who also directed Neeson in the similarly brain-teasing thriller Unknown), Non-Stop is a reasonably compelling thriller in its first two-thirds, as the incriminating evidence piles up and a host of possible perpetrators present themselves, including an edgy flight attendant (Michelle Dockery), a twitchy passenger (Scoot McNairy), a Muslim doctor (Omar Metwally), an ingratiating fellow marshal (Anson Mount), a prickly tech expert (Nate Parker), and an aggressive New York cop (Corey Stoll).
Neeson holds the centre well. The Irish actor may be bemused by his late-in-life breakout as an action star, in fare such as Taken and The Grey. But the truth of the matter is, he is well-suited to the genre, by virtue of his physically imposing presence, combined with a soulful, near-tragic demeanour.
But even that will only take you so far. Non-Stop wants to be Die Hard on a plane (note the presence of producer Joel Silver), but in its final act ends up closer to the misbegotten Jodie Foster thriller Flightplan (2005), in which the implausibility factor registers higher than the 40,000-foot altitude.
It doesn't get quite as ludicrous as Flightplan (what, nobody saw the kid!?), but it's close.
Anyway, Neeson mitigates the occasional wind-shear plunges into absurdity. The man's particular set of skills includes the ability to make the most incredible hokum not only credible but palatable.