THE REEL: Neeson soars, execution bores in “Non-Stop.”

THE REEL with Ben Conniff

Ben Conniff

As the latest actioner from crowd-favorite Liam Neeson and director Jaume Collet-Serra (“Orphan,” “Unknown”), “Non-Stop” isn’t bad February entertainment as much as it is simply unexceptional.

You could do much worse than this whodunit, but Neeson has proved before that he can do much better too (see “Taken”).

The talented cast is mostly squandered with a preposterous premise. Neeson plays United States Air Marshall Bill Marks, a man battling demons of his own as he boards a trans-Atlantic flight from New York to London. He’s an alcoholic driven to near-ruin as he copes with a family tragedy.

On the plane, Marks begins receiving text messages (is that condoned on planes now?) from someone saying that they’ll kill a passenger every 20 minutes unless $150 million is wired into an offshore bank account. TSA runs the numbers and find that the account is under Mark’s name, and so the cat-and-mouse game ensues.

After a turbulent beginning, Marks eventually earns the trust of everyone on board. That is, just in time for a third act full of physics-defying stunts and far-fetched revelations.

Really though, what else can you expect from a Neeson action picture?

The plot is to make it look like an emotionally unstable U.S. Marshall caused the deaths of 150 people, among them Julianne Moore , Corey Stoll (“House of Cards”), Michelle Dockery (“Downton Abbey”) and Lupita Nyong’o (“12 Years A Slave”).

Not a bad idea on paper, but it lacks some “oomph” in its execution.

Besides, any villain who honestly tries to make an example of Qui-Gon Jinn as a crack in America’s security infrastructure must be a bonehead.

My favorite sequence showed a flurry of texts coming Marks’ way that were displayed onscreen. As the text boxes fade into the background, they still remain visible as new messages arrive. Eventually there’s a barrage of unnerving messages surrounding Marks on the plane like a prisoner, as if he has no hope of doing anything to save the passengers.

“Non-Stop” doesn’t quite have the earth-shattering twists of a classic Hitchcock film or Christie story.

If you have any penchant for dissecting murder mysteries at all, you can probably predict who the airline killer is in the movie’s first seven minutes.

I did, but there are enough red herrings along the way that made me think twice. In fact there are enough to nearly make your head spin.

The final reveal misfires for this reason. A big punch would’ve elevated the film a bit, but so much time is spent incriminating a small handful of characters that it’s really no surprise that one of them turns out to be the real culprit.

A little bit of brain is better than none, so don’t hold it against screenwriters John Engle, Chris Roach and John W. Richardson for putting out a late winter action movie that actually makes you think a bit.

That, combined with some intense, albeit hammy, action scenes make “Non-Stop” a mildly diverting night out at the movies. Perhaps it might have a bit more edge if I had seen it on a plane to London.