There was one chance to save Non-Stop (Universal, 2.28), the latest action thriller starring Liam “Paycheck” Neeson…one chance to make it into something half-special or at least surprising. Neeson plays Bill Marks, an alcoholic air marshall on a New York-to-London flight. Before the plane is over Maine he’s dealing with a secret texter on the plane who’s threatening to kill passengers unless the airline transfers $150 million to his account. But it’s soon learned that the account is in Marks’ name, and before you know it the news channels are reporting that Marks is the bad guy. Or is perhaps a good guy with an evil twin or a split personality…something. He’s not, of course — nobody is going to pay Neeson eight figures to play the villain. But it would’ve been cool if the film had bitten the bullet and gone dark and subverted expectations. That, at least, would have woken me up.

Alas, Non-Stop — directed by Jaume Collet-Serra and written by John W. Richardson, Chris Roach and Ryan Engle — doesn’t have the balls to do this and so we’re left with a standard airborne thriller with two or three red herrings and some character shading by way of Robert Zemeckis and Denzel Washington‘s Flight. It’s basically a wank. Semi-tolerable for the first 45 to 60 minutes but then it becomes bothersome and runs out of gas. The twists and turns don’t seem part of a greater integrated whole that’s been carefully worked out. They seem to have been plopped into the script because somebody said “we need some twists and turns.”

The main costars are Julianne Moore, Nate Parker, Scoot McNairy and Corey Stoll. Right away I was thinking “well, one of these four is the secretive ransom guy because they’re all name-brand actors and probably got paid decently so producer Joel Silver is not going to throw all that money by not having one of them be the bad guy…it doesn’t make financial sense.”

On top of which Neeson looks grimy and a little overweight. I don’t care if his hair is dirty and he’s unshaven due to alcoholism. I want my movie stars to look like they’re watching their weight and working out. All I know is that Neeson looks a good 10 or 15 pounds heavier in Non-Stop than he appeared on 60 Minutes two or three nights ago, and I didn’t like that.

It’s 8:45 am Pacific, and Non-Stop has a 38% Rotten Tomatoes rating — decisive fail.