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‘Honest Thief’: To tell the truth, this is not one of Liam Neeson’s best

The romance is sweet, but the action is nowhere near plausible.

Liam Neeson plays a bank robber whose plan to surrender to the FBI goes awry in “Honest Thief.’
Briarcliff Entertainment

When I heard Liam Neeson was playing a criminal mastermind known as “The In and Out Bandit” in the new thriller “Honest Thief,” I was hoping against hope he got that moniker because he celebrated every successful heist by sending a big sack of In-N-Out Burgers to the frustrated feds. But this gray and brooding and plausibility-defying actioner is set not in California but in and around Boston, and Neeson’s Tom Carter has been given that name by the FBI because when he hits a bank in the dead of night and cleans out the safe, he’s in and out, just like that!

As opposed to what, the Lingering Bandit, who takes his sweet time and waits until he hears sirens before making a run for it?

Let’s also make it clear Tom Carter is nothing at all like the middle-aged-but-not-to-be-trifled with characters Neeson has played in the “Taken” trilogy, “The Commuter,” “Non-Stop,” “Cold Pursuit,” “Unknown,” “The Grey,” “Run All Night” or “A Walk Among the Tombstones,” OK? This guy is completely different from all those other stoic and rugged individualists who find themselves thrust into the most extreme circumstances imaginable and will do anything to set things right. Nothing like them at all.

Neeson’s Tom is a former Navy demolitions expert with a particular set of skills (sorry) who for the better part of a decade has been pulling off a series of seamlessly executed bank robberies. But now he calls the FBI, identifies himself as the In and Out Bandit (a name he despises) and says, “I’ve robbed 12 banks in seven states … in eight years … I have $9 million.” He wants to turn over the cash — he hasn’t spent a dime of it, for ludicrous reasons explained much later on — and surrender, in exchange for a lenient sentence. Why? Because Tom has fallen in love with Kate Walsh’s Annie, and he’d like to come clean, do his time, have a fresh start in life and not always be looking over his shoulder, waiting for the feds to swoop in. He wants to become the Sorry ‘Bout That Bandit!

Tom meets with FBI agents Nevins (Jai Courtney) and Hall (Anthony Ramos) to turn himself in and hand over the cash. Big mistake, Tom. Huge. These guys are corrupt — Nevins in particular is a homicidal maniac — and next thing you know, things go horribly wrong, murder is afoot, Tom and Nevins are engaged in mortal combat and tumbling out of a hotel window and onto the street, just as Annie is arriving to meet Tom, and that’s how Annie finds out there’s a little more to Tom than he’s told her.

Neeson and Walsh are lovely together; it’s nice and quite rare to see such a giddy, crazy-for-you romance between two characters who are over 50. And the reliable character actor Jeffrey Donovan is terrific as Agent Meyers, a good-guy fed who carries around a dog with him because that’s the only thing he got in a recent divorce settlement. (I’m thinking FBI agents probably don’t bring pups to work, but there you have it.) But this is one of those second-rate action movies where smart people keep having to do dumb things just to keep the plot rolling, and nearly every scene has us asking, “Why would you do THAT?” The In and Out Bandit should have anonymously donated his loot to charity and disappeared into the mist with Annie when he had the chance.