Mostly engaging claustrophobic thriller, featuring unlikely action hero Liam Neeson. It’s nearly done in, however, when preposterous baddies are finally unmasked. A popcorn flick that should be enjoyed for the ride, and not the outcome.
As the pic opens, TSA Air marshal Bill Marks (Neeson) is sitting in a parking lot at JFK airport, having a coffee spiked with a little bourbon, before he boards—and works—a flight to London Heathrow. As per the Airport movie franchise tradition, the flight seems to comprise a cross-section of America, even though there are only a scant 150 on-board. Marks is clearly a troubled soul, and the first chance he gets, he goes to the lavatory, duct tapes over the smoke alarm and enjoys a quick cigarette.
Not back at his seat for a minute, the fun begins. Marks gets a text on his secure network saying that unless $150 million is transferred to an offshore account, someone on the plane will be killed every 20 minutes. Bill sets the timer on his watch to 20 minutes. While all threats must be taken seriously, how likely is it that people can be offed—without detection—in an aircraft? Still, he reports this to the captain, even if no one is yet taking the matter seriously.
Realizing that fellow marshal Jack Hammond (Anson Mount) is on the flight, he begins to think that Hammond could be the one sending the text messages, which he still regards as a prank—albeit a sick one. Marks confronts Hammond, and a struggle ensues, causing Hammond to say that he needed the money, and will cut Marks in. Hammond goes for his gun, and in short order, he’s shot: the first victim. At that, Bill Marks’ 20-minute watch timer sounds.
Further details emerge. The account number given by the texter/extortionist identifies an account in the name of Bill Marks. As to Hammond “needing the money,” it is revealed that he was smuggling cocaine on the flight.
A second suspect is questioned, exposed via a neat virus that will identify cell phones currently operating. Unfortunately, he inexplicably goes into convulsions and dies—in keeping with the 20-minute schedule. Amidst numerous red herrings, many, including the TSA, believe that the perp is really Marks, who is hijacking the plane. As if he didn’t already have enough to worry about.
Marks is not the bad guy, and I’m betting you won’t be satisfied when you discover who it is.
***SPOILERS AND OTHER COMMENTS***
The flow of text messages drives the plot, but it is never explained how the perp gained access to the closed federal security network, nor how he obtained so much information on Bill Marks’ personal life.
Two of the killings use a poison dart arrangement that would have required far more preparation than the movie allows.
Hidden within the cocaine being smuggled by Hammond is a bomb, and it is unclear why it cannot just be cast off the aircraft at the appropriate altitude, as opposed to the risky strategy employed instead.
Complicating matters, one of the passengers is an NYC cop, as was Marks, who—until late in the game—is Marks’ adversary. Shouldn’t Marks have tried to enlist his aid from the get-go?
Marks is able to shoot one of the perps during a zero-gravity dive. Talk about your lucky shot.
But the worst problem is the perps. Would you believe a soldier in it for the money teaming up with the son of a 9/11 victim out for revenge? Me neither, but that’s what is in the script.