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‘Non-Stop’ thrills: Liam Neeson leads a cast of familiar faces on this hijacking flick

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Liam Neeson plays Air Marshal Bill Marks in “Non-Stop.”

Liam Neeson plays Air Marshal Bill Marks in “Non-Stop.”

If only Kevin Costner’s grizzled, troubled, bad-father, tragedy-marred, antihero killing machine of a veteran CIA agent from “3 Days to Kill” had been on board this “Non-Stop” flight, he could have crossed paths with Liam Neeson’s grizzled, troubled, bad-father, tragedy-marred, antihero killing machine of a veteran federal air marshal. Now THAT would have been something.

They could have had a steely eyed, old-timey movie star stare-off right there in business class.

For the second time in two weeks, we have a genre thriller starring a veteran actor who plays it oh so straight and carries the day, even as the events around him become increasingly implausible to the point of daring the audience to chuckle. But for the second time in two weeks, I can’t pretend the checklist of cliches didn’t tickle me, and I was greatly entertained by the terrific performances from the ensemble cast of familiar movie actors and faces from hit TV shows.

The genre this time around is the hijacking thriller, with nearly all of the action taking place on a nonstop flight from New York to London.

Liam Neeson, a.k.a. Liam the Great, continues his late middle-age run as the baddest action hero on the planet. He’s Federal Air Marshal Bill Marks, who sits in his vehicle at the airport, slugs down some whiskey and gets lost in his own thoughts as he gazes at a photo of a young girl, presumably his daughter. Yup, that’s JUST the kind of guy you want carrying a badge and a gun on an international flight.

Director Jaume Collet-Serra does a nimble job of introducing us to the varied cast of characters on the plane, keeping us guessing as to whether their knowing glances or whispered conversations mean they’re good guys or potential terrorists. And what an eclectic, fascinating bunch it is!

The flight attendants are played by Lupita Nyong’o, Oscar-nominated for “12 Years a Slave,” and Michelle Dockery, best known as Lady Mary on “Downton Abbey.” How awesome is it to see Lady Mary, I mean Nancy the flight attendant, serving chamomile tea to a passenger and sucking at it?

A few hours after takeoff, Bill starts receiving messages on what is supposed to be a secure line. Someone claiming to be on board says he’ll kill a passenger every 20 minutes if Bill doesn’t do exactly what he says.

Here we go.

Sprinkled among the passengers whose only job is to pretend to be asleep during the quiet scenes and panic when all hell breaks loose, we have: Julianne Moore as a mysterious woman who avoids questions about what she does and angles for a seat next to Bill on the plane; Corey Stoll from the Netflix series “House of Cards” as a New York cop; Omar Metwally as Dr. Fahim Nasir, whose very appearance arouses the suspicions of some of the passengers; Anson Mount as a second air marshal on the flight who’s behaving erratically; and about a half-dozen other characters who might be sending Bill those threatening messages.

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