In "The Lego Movie," Liam Neeson speaks for Good Cop and Bad Cop.
His character of Bill Marks is a little bit of both in "Non-Stop" as a federal air marshal who drinks scotch before a trans-Atlantic flight, asks a flight attendant for a gin and tonic and lights up a forbidden cigarette in the plane's lavatory.
But Bill might be the only hope for the flight once he begins receiving text messages from an unknown passenger threatening to kill someone onboard every 20 minutes unless $150 million is deposited in a numbered account.
Starring: Liam Neeson, Julianne Moore.
Rating: PG-13 for intense sequences of action and violence, some language, sensuality and drug references.
The plane is midway across the ocean on its way from New York to London, so the pilot (Linus Roache) can't just put the aircraft down. He's willing to defer to Bill until the marshal comes under suspicion as the source of the messages. Then, the captain asks for Bill's badge and gun and suggests he "just sit back, relax and enjoy the flight."
Not gonna happen as Bill refuses to relinquish authority, the threats continue and bodies pile up. No one is safe from suspicion -- except maybe the frightened little girl traveling alone to see her dad -- including a chatty seat mate (Julianne Moore) and the lead flight attendant (Michelle Dockery).
As you wonder just how long the passengers will stay docile and obedient, mistrust bounces from one person to another, like a klieg light scanning the sky. The threat to methodically kill travelers is then trumped by the real possibility that everyone aboard could die.
It makes Denzel Washington's dilemma as an alcoholic pilot trying to land a crippled jet in "Flight" seem like an exercise in a simulator. Well, almost.
"Non-Stop" reunites Mr. Neeson with his "Unknown" director Jaume Collet-Serra. The Spanish-born filmmaker made the transition from commercials and music videos with "House of Wax," "Orphan" and then "Unknown," in which Mr. Neeson discovers another man has stolen his entire life, including his wife.
"Non-Stop" is a high-flying variation of a locked-room mystery. The messages are coming from inside the 767 cabin and coincidence is trumped by intent when two people die in the same murderous manner.
Mr. Neeson's newfound fame as an action star is on full display here. He looks like a guy who could fight off lesser mortals hanging onto his arms or back, and Bill engenders sympathy despite lapses in judgment.
Like Mr. Washington, he plays a modern-day hero of a disaster movie -- not the pilot, reverend, architect or fireman of old but a flawed man who might be redeemed if he survives.
Although the story keeps the audience guessing until the instigator is unmasked, the reasoning is then delivered with a compressed bit of speechifying. No one gets a chance to even argue about it before bullets and fists fly, and I suspect the movie might not hold up on a second viewing.
"Non-Stop" had the good fortune to cast Lupita Nyong'o, an Oscar nominee for "12 Years a Slave," as a flight attendant but not the foresight to give her much to do. Many of the others aren't as well known -- Scoot McNairy, Nate Parker, Corey Stoll and Anson Mount -- which eliminates that "Murder, She Wrote" tip-off where the biggest guest star was the culprit.
It's not a great movie, by any measure, but it is engrossing and an echo of such 1970s hits as "The Poseidon Adventure" where Gene Hackman's renegade preacher delivered motivational exhortations such as "There's nobody alive but us! And nobody's going to help us except ourselves!"
Movie editor Barbara Vancheri: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1632. Read her blog: www.post-gazette.com/madaboutmovies.