Dave's Rating:

2.5

Neesons, though

The cultural figure Liam Neeson has become on screen over the past several years -- Action Neeson if you like, or, if you're Key & Peele, "Liam Neesons, Though" -- usually arrives with a side of misery. His characters are making amends for the past, they're grieving a loss, they're in trouble. Soon enough a bigger trouble comes along, one that forces them into heroic action.

That's the story of Run All Night, an entertaining, competently executed gun opera that exists somewhere between the sorrowful tone of films like The Grey and A Walk Among The Tombstones, and the insane assembly line of killing that is Non-Stop and the Taken franchise.

Neeson is Jimmy, a former hitman for an Irish mob boss named Shawn (Ed Harris). Jimmy has an impressive list of kills, a deep case of alcoholism, a ruined relationship with his son Michael (Joel Kinnaman), and a non-functioning existence. After a deadly run-in with Shawn's horrible son Danny (Boyd Holbrook), Shawn seeks revenge and Jimmy has to return to doing what he used to do best in order to save Michael.

What comes next involves car chases, car crashes, cop killing, a brutal next-generation hitman (Common) who's more Terminator than man, pinpoint marksmanship that tests the suspension of disbelief, some heated mano-a-mano, and gun battles set to the tear-jerking strains of The Pogues' "Fairytale of New York." (It's set at Christmas, for that wonderful/horrible life quality.)

This is Neeson's third film with director Jaume Collet-Serra, after Unknown and Non-Stop, so nothing that takes place on screen, no matter how outlandish, feels out of place. And it's clear that the filmmaker loves big moments. His camera dives in from the sky and spins around on the ground, following his characters into one dark, seedy location after another. It would be almost noir-like if Collet-Serra weren't so intent on blowing out the blackness with harsh lights, Christmas trees, laser-focused weapons and buildings that explode with fire.

It's a lot of aggressive murder-fun, but Run All Night doesn't necessarily stand out from the pack in the Action Neeson sub-genre. It doesn't have to, of course, because the template is fixed: an older man redeems his moral life by reclaiming the power that comes with violence.

It doesn't matter much that the actor is at his best when he's a mess, when his gunmen reveal their frailty, such as in an early scene where Jimmy is reduced to playing Santa Claus at a children's party in order to get money to fix his broken tenement furnace. These are resurrection fables, recurring with all the frequency the market will bear. We want him to get back up and do it. And dutifully, he obeys.

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