‘Retribution’ traps Liam Neeson in his car for a stilted high-speed thriller

Race against the clock slowed by ludicrous dialogue, obvious plot turns.

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There’s a bomb in the car as Matt (Liam Neeson) drives his kids (Jack Champion, left, and Lilly Aspell) to school in “Retribution.”

There’s a bomb in the car as Matt (Liam Neeson) drives his kids (Jack Champion, left, and Lilly Aspell) to school in “Retribution.”

Lionsgate/Roadside Attractions

In the 15 years since Liam Neeson demonstrated a very particular set of skills in the first “Taken,” Neeson has taken on killer wolves in “The Grey” (2011), dealt with a vast conspiracy in “Unknown” (2011), battled terrorists on an international flight in “Non-Stop” (2014), faced down a mob boss in “Run All Night” (2015), solved a murder mystery on a train in “The Commuter” (2018), stood up to a cartel from the seat of a snowplow in “Cold Pursuit” (2019), taken on corrupt FBI agents in “Honest Thief” (2020), led a dangerous Alaskan truck mission in “The Ice Road” (2021), gotten tangled up in a government conspiracy in “Blacklight” (2022) and executed hitman jobs while struggling with dementia in “Memory” (2022).

Trains, planes, trucks, snowplows — there are all sorts of vehicles for Liam Neeson vehicles. It was only a matter of time before we got a Behind the Wheel thriller, and that time is now, with the stilted “Retribution,” which has the 71-year-old Neeson once again in a ticking clock crisis not of his own making. While Neeson remains a commanding screen presence, his onscreen physicality is mitigated by the fact his character spends nearly the entirety of the film enclosed in his luxury vehicle, frantically trying to outwit an unknown tormentor on the phone who has planted a bomb in car. So yep, this remake of the 2015 Spanish film “El desconocido” is basically “Taken” meets “Speed” as seen through a B-movie filter.

Neeson’s Matt Turner is a well-heeled banking executive who lives in an Architectural Digest-ready home in Berlin with his wife Heather (Embeth Davitz) and their children: the obligatory brooding teenage son Zach (Jack Champion) and the obligatory precocious younger daughter Emily (Lilly Aspell). We can see from the get-go that Matt is consumed with his work and is never there for his family; he only reluctantly agrees to take the children to school this one time because Heather has a pressing obligation and Matt, you promised!

‘Retribution’

Untitled

Lionsgate and Roadside Attractions present a film directed by Nimród Antal and written by Christopher Salmanpour. Running time: 90 minutes. Rated R (for some language and violence). Opens Thursday at local theaters.

Bad timing. As the petulant Zach and the annoying Emily pester each other and irritate us from the back seat, a burner phone planted in the car rings, and a computer-disguised voice says: “Matt Turner, there is a bomb under your seat.” Furthermore, the device is connected to a pressure plate, so if Matt or his children attempt to get out of their seats, the bomb will detonate. Uh-oh. Turns out Matt might not be the innocent banking exec we think he is, and the guy on the other end of the line is demanding a king’s ransom, or else.

The remainder of “Retribution” has Matt suddenly becoming a stuntman-level driver racing through through the streets of Berlin (this is an admittedly good-looking film), as he witnesses two other cars blowing up, tries to outmaneuver die Polizei who have been led to believe Matt is the terrorist, connects with his boss and longtime friend Anders (Matthew Modine), who is as perplexed as Matt about the identity of this terrorist who is trying to extort millions from them — and matches wits with that anonymous psycho.

We’re halfway through the movie when the villain’s identity becomes painfully obvious. Spoiler alert: We’re not wrong. The dialogue is often so painful, it’s almost entertaining on some level. When Matt demands the authorities cut off cell phone service so he can lose the caller, he’s told, “They haven’t interrupted the telephone service in Berlin since 1945.” When it appears Matt’s entire life has erupted, someone comments, “You still have a nice car.” There’s even a moment when one key player remarks, “Thankfully, German trains run on time.” Yikes.

I’m not ready to give up on Liam Neeson thrillers, but it might be time to take it to the next level. Put him in a hot air balloon, or in a time-travel device, or how about the world’s largest rollercoaster? Let’s do it!

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