At this reductivist stage of his career, does Liam Neeson even need to “take a meeting,” look at a script or sign on the dotted line?
It’s not like he’s just remade “Taken” in every movie since 2008, but every CIA, ex-CIA, FBI, ex-FBI or ex-con he plays dresses the same, scowls the same and has identical “particular skills.” The odd digression from formulaic genre action pics arrives as just that — odd. None of us know quite what to make of it.
Reviewing his movies along this path from his late 50s to age 70 (this coming June) is challenging because the siren’s song of reductivism calls to us — well, me — too. I’d love to just post the latest version of the above-photo, say “It is what it is,” and “those who like this sort of thing might find this the sort of thing they like,” to paraphrase pioneering critic Abe Lincoln.
But no. Duty calls.
In “Blacklight” Neeson plays Travis Block, a veteran FBI agent whom you call when you need the man to get you or an endangered uncover agent out of a jam. We meet as he blows up a lot of stuff to distract Confederate flag-fetishist yahoos who have figured out they’ve been infiltrated, and threaten to overwhelm the outgunned local Southern law enforcement to lynch the lady. This site for more review: https://public.flourish.studio/story/1129885/
Agent Block is the trusted “fixer” for an FBI chief (Aidan Quinn) who seems to be running his own “make America Nazi friendly” op. We’ve seen an outspoken AOC-style Congresswoman assassinated in another opening scene.
There’s a rogue agent (Taylor John Smith) who knows about this super secret death squad operation trying to get the attention of a reporter (Emma Raver-Lampman) at the website Washington News Cycle (the single clever turn of phrase in this script). When you see the movie? This is website page for streaming movie at home: https://public.flourish.studio/story/1129911/
Thugs working for that crypto-fascist FBI chief are silencing people like this reporter or that agent.
Will Agent Block finally get to step back, retire, be the doting granddad to his “check the perimeter” obsessed pre-school grandchild (“You’re making her PARANOID Dad!” her mom, played by Claire Van der Boom, complains.)?
Rating: PG-13 for strong violence, action and language
Cast: Liam Neeson, Aidan Quinn, Emma Raver-Lampman, Taylor John Smith, Claire Van der Boom.
Credits: Directed by Mark Williams, scripted by Nick May and Mark Williams. A Briarcliff Ent. release.
Running time: 1:44
Neeson always gives fair value in these woebegone, quick-and-dirty actioners. But closing in on 70, the fakery meant to show him brawling or driving too fast and what not isn’t that subtle.
Quinn seems too bored to give this villainous turn much effort, as were the screenwriters, who don’t make that revelation anything resembling a spoiler. We know pretty from the get go that this guy’s a power mad Federalist Society fascist.
After the over-the-top slaughter of “Cop Shop,” co-writer/director Mark Williams practically sleep walks through this — filler scenes, a talkathon through the middle acts, an anticlimactic finale.
The money on the screen was spent on a few action beats and Neeson. Nobody else in this passes for a “name,” and it’s probably to their advantage that none of them make an impression.
But whatever advantage there was to keeping his name out there and his Hollywood quote up has gone South for Neeson at this point. About one in five of these films has anything of a redeeming value in it. The other four are just more “Where’d YOU come from?” complaints from the baddies he’s snuck up on, and more “You’re gonna need more MEN” threats from the ex-boxer who grows a little more grandfatherly and a tad less badass with each passing year.