‘Blacklight’: Liam Neeson’s a tough guy again, this time with a Dodge Charger and OCD
He’s slugging and sulking again as a hardbitten freelance “dark ops” agent secretly doing the bidding of FBI Director Aidan Quinn.
“I’ve been thinking, maybe it’s time I hang it up.” — Liam Neeson’s veteran, off-the-books, particular-set-of-skills operative in “Blacklight.” Spoiler Alert: He doesn’t hang it up.
When those goofy Razzie Awards nominations were announced earlier this week, history was made as Bruce Willis was given his own Worst Performance category for his work in the following films:
“Midnight in the Switchgrass”
Briarcliff Entertainment presents a film directed by Mark Williams and written by Williams and Nick May. Rated PG-13 (for strong violence, action and language). Running time: 105 minutes. Now showing at local theaters.
“Out of Death”
“Survive the Game”
You know what’s most remarkable about that list? Even with Willis gobbling up action roles in recent years like they were M&Ms, there still are plenty of drive-in level screenplays out there giving Liam Neeson the chance to play yet another hard-bitten anti-hero with a shady background and a muscle car who gets dragged into a byzantine and violent adventure. The last few years alone have seen the now 69-year-old Neeson punching and slugging and shooting and chasing and brooding and sulking and sleuthing his way through “The Commuter” and “Cold Pursuit” and “Honest Thief” and “The Marksman” and “The Ice Road” and now “Blacklight,” which is based on the true story of one Dr. William H. Byler, who is widely (and somewhat controversially) credited with inventing the iconic ultraviolet lamp in 1935 …
I’m KIDDING. If they were going to make a movie about Dr. William H. Byler, the perhaps-inventor of the blacklight, they would have cast Benedict Cumberbatch. This particular “Blacklight” is pure, overblown, cliché-riddled fiction.
“Blacklight” opens with the hit-and-run death of one Sofia Flores (Mel Jarnson), who is clearly modeled after Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, as evidenced by the Big Liberal Speech she delivers just before the suspicious accident. You’d think a story like this would be big news, but the media doesn’t seem that interested until Sofia’s boyfriend, Dusty Crane (Taylor John Smith), reveals himself to be an undercover FBI agent who had infiltrated Sofia’s life under false pretenses but then really fell in love with her and now Dusty wants to tell his story and that’s gonna blow the lid off a whole pot of corruption, people!
Enter Neeson’s Travis Block, and you gotta love it when we get character names like Travis Block and Dusty Crane, right? We first see Travis in action as he rescues an undercover FBI agent from a mob of violent white supremacists who have figured out she’s not one of them. A little ingenuity, some pyrotechnics and just like that, Travis is roaring away in his Dodge Charger. He’s still got it, man.
Turns out Travis is a freelancer who does “dark ops” work for his longtime friend and former Vietnam buddy, the FBI Director Gabriel Robinson, who is played by the great Aidan Quinn, making the most of a role that has him wearing tuxes just before some big event and handing his old pal Travis a tumbler of whiskey as the two old lions parry about the work they do and the price that must be paid for freedom and all that jazz. When things get contentious, Gabriel reminds Travis, “You work for me, you are my weapon,” to which Travis replies, “After all these years, that’s all I am to you?”
(Travis also has OCD, as evidenced by him locking and unlocking his apartment door multiple times and arranging everything from his shoes to the bottles of beer in his fridge in precise order. This is the third movie this week to feature a lead who is on the spectrum, following Kenneth Branagh’s Hercule Poirot in “Death on the Nile” and Zoe Kravitz’ Angela in “Kimi.” In the former two films, these conditions were an integral part of the character; here, it feels like something that was tacked on and isn’t a consistent theme in the story.)
With the requisite techno score setting the tone for maximum intensity and the occasional competently filmed chase or shootout sequence dropped in here and there, “Blacklight” indulges in a number of action-movie clichés, including the struggling but hardworking reporter (Emmy Raver-Lampman) who can’t get her editor to see there’s a huge story developing right in front of them, and the obtuse editor who says things like, “News stories are based on facts. Find them first, [then] write your story!” Then there’s the plot thread involving Travis and his grown daughter Amanda (Claire van der Boom) and granddaughter Natalie (Gabriella Sengos). Travis wasn’t around much when Amanda was growing up, but by golly, he’s going to be there for Natalie! Even if he did just miss…yep…you guessed it … Natalie’s SCHOOL PLAY.
Of course, we know there’s a strong chance the lives of Amanda and Natalie will be in jeopardy at one point, because that’s what evil does in movies like this: It goes after the ones you care about the most. It’s too bad nobody in this story is familiar with the “Taken” franchise. They should know the one thing you really don’t want to do is mess with Liam Neeson’s family, because the man has a very particular —
Taste in screenplays.