It’ll be fourteen years since Pierre Morel’s Taken was released, a movie that shifted Liam Neeson’s career and reduced him to a typecast where a gruff alpha male “with a particular set of skills” would save the day from the over-the-top threat of the day. Some have been very good, which include all of his collaborations with Jaume Collet-Serra, while others, Taken trilogy included, are unbearable to watch. His latest movie Blacklight, directed by Honest Thief helmer Mark Williams, may very well be one of his worst “particular set of skills” action flicks yet, with a barely coherent plot stitching together barely coherent action sequences featuring Neeson’s usual brand of light slapping.
By light slapping, I mean Neeson barely punching whoever he’s trying to defeat. The shaky camera and random cuts will try to hide it, but we can clearly see him tackle someone with very little effort, with the rapid editing doing all of the heavy lifting. This time around, Neeson is thwarted inside a political conspiracy, in which the FBI randomly kills innocent people for…reasons. It starts with the death of congress hopeful Sofia Flores from a planned hit-and-run by FBI director Gabriel Robinson (Aidan Quinn).
No one knows why she died, but whistleblower Dusty Crane (Taylor John Smith) may have an idea and seeks the help of journalist Mira Jones (Emmy Raver-Lampman) to tell her the truth. But FBI Agent Travis Block (Neeson) is hunting him down to make sure he never speaks, at the request of Robinson, until he learns that Robinson is behind Flores’ assassination.
The most frustrating thing about this movie is that no one ever explains why or how Flores’ assassination serves the plot. It wants to be an action film that will uncover a political conspiracy and expose the FBI’s corruption, but without a goal from the antagonist, the entire movie feels pointless. Undercooked plot aside, Aidan Quinn is a barely convincing villain, doing a poor man’s imitation of Anthony Michael Hall meets Dan O’Herlihy without an ounce of the expressive power of those two actors. He’s such a powerful antagonist that he orders his henchmen around, but never seems to want to confront Travis for some reason.
So yeah, as “powerful” as Robinson is, he’s completely weightless without motivation. Because of this, the entire movie falters completely with plenty of pointless scenes that explain absolutely nothing. There are lots of “walking and talking” between journalists trying to uncover the conspiracy, even if we have no idea what on earth they’re uncovering, and conversations between Travis and Mira that lead absolutely nowhere.
There are also lots of supposedly “heartfelt” moments between Travis and his granddaughter Natalie (Gabriella Sengos), which always end in the same cyclical “your paranoia is contagious” bit Travis’ daughter (Claire van der Boom) tells him. Travis doesn’t help his cause by giving Natalie (a toddler) a taser for her birthday or installing security cameras after the granddaughter confesses to him that a “stranger” keeps following them.
None of the action sequences are particularly memorable either. Sure, they’re hindered by the shaky cam and horrendous close-ups, but strip those away and you still get the most standard action sequences possible; gunfights with absolutely no style or personality, car chases that don’t do anything to wow the audiences away, and a plethora of Taken-esque confrontations that lack grit. Neeson sleepwalks through his entire performance, as if he’s ready to become the next Bruce Willis. And it’s quite a shame to see Neeson clearly doing this for the money, instead of legitimately enjoying himself, as he did with Collet-Serra’s films, or Hans Patter Moland’s terrific Cold Pursuit.
Nearing 70, Neeson has said multiple times that he would quit action movies “for good,” but that plan has never come to fruition. Another paycheck, and he’s doing them again. And while, yes, his movies have always been successful, the bit is getting tiresome, fast. In any case, Blacklight makes the perfect case for Liam Neeson to step away from action movies and focus on more dramatic roles. Unless Jaume Collet-Serra comes back for one last “particular set of skills” thriller. Now that would be amazing.
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Liam Neeson can’t save Blacklight from being yet another dull political thriller with almost nothing to offer, and nothing of interest to say.
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