Take flight

“Don’t call me Shirley.”

“Don’t call me Shirley.”

Rated 3.0

Liam Neeson continues his relatively new career as the thinking older man’s action hero with Non-Stop, essentially Taken on a plane. This time it’s a big flying mechanical bird being kidnapped as opposed to an overacting, so-obviously-not-a-teenager Maggie Grace getting abducted.

I sort of hate the Taken movies, so my writing the above statement might imply that Non-Stop stinks, too. It doesn’t. It’s one of those trashy movies that you can’t help but like because all of its implausibility and overwrought performances combine into something strangely entertaining. There’s nothing wrong with a little well-done trash cinema.

We first see Nelson’s Bill Marks drinking an alcoholic beverage in an airport parking lot before he boards a plane. The opening passages of the movie slowly reveal what we already know from every commercial for this movie: Bill is a U.S. air marshal, and he’s going to have a dilemma on this particular flight. His plane … is going to be taken!

The twist here is that a hijacker, through text communications and various manipulations, will make it actually look like Bill is the one hijacking the plane in the eyes of the passengers and the media, who get to see some of the onboard action via YouTube.

The film has your basic assortment of terrorist suspects, everybody from the seemingly sweet female seat neighbor (Julianne Moore classing up the place) to the mysterious fellow (Scoot McNairy) who asks for a light before Bill boards the plane. There’s also a Muslim doctor, a grouchy NYC cop, a computer programmer, suspicious flight attendants and so on. It’s a gold star for you if you can figure out who is bad before the big reveal.

One twist after another hits you, and the movie goes beyond ridiculous into some forgivable zone where you get the feeling it’s all being done with a big wink at the audience. The folks making this movie must’ve been aware that their little thriller is completely nuts, right?

This is the second time Neeson has teamed with director Jaume Collet-Serra, who helmed the also ridiculous but far less fun Neeson vehicle Unknown, and the creepy Orphan. As he did with Orphan, Collet-Serra does a decent job keeping his audience off balance when it comes to the mystery in Non-Stop.

The overall feel of the movie is like a ’70s disaster flick, like Airport or, better yet, Airport ’77, the cinematic piece of awesomeness that saw a 747 sink in the ocean, with the plane staying intact and the survivors searching for options to reach the surface, eventually opting for really big balloons.

If there was a missed opportunity here, it’s that the producers should’ve thrown in a couple of disaster film vets to augment the cheese factor. How much more fun could this have been with, say, people like Robert Hays (Airplane!), Robert Wagner (The Towering Inferno) or Richard Roundtree (Earthquake) occupying some seats. That would’ve been a sweet, daring way to acknowledge this film’s goofiness and obvious obligations to outlandish ’70s disaster epics.

Non-Stop is one of those movies that you will stop on if you are flipping through channels a few years from now, and you just want to be entertained while switching your brain off. It won’t win any awards for smarts, but it will keep you riveted and Neeson makes for good company in this kind of crap sometimes.

There are plans for Taken 3, and time will tell whether Bill Marks gets another air adventure. I would rather see Neeson drunk on a plane again before watching him have another one of those stupid “You’re going to be taken!” phone conversations with family members.