Liam Neeson has been slaughtering bad guys who mess with his family on the big screen for so long now that it’s almost hard to remember that he used to be a gentle giant character actor who once played Oskar Schindler. Somehow there’s still a little novelty left in that stunt casting, even though the man has officially become the Charles Bronson of the 2000s. We now get multiple films a year of Neeson killing the bulk of the population of a major city and they can’t all be equals. Certainly the recent trainwreck Taken 3 was a disaster, so it’s nice to report that Neeson’s latest blood soaked effort is at least solid dumb fun. Granted it’s a movie that can’t decide whether it wants to be a sincere urban crime drama or a massive Die Hard knock off, but that’s also part of the charm. Sure, you’ll be able to predict the entire plot within minutes, but you’ll never guess which of the scenes you see coming will play out sincerely and which will feel like cartoons.
Neeson stars as a burned out former mob hitman who now spends his days trying to drink away the guilt of his body count. His childhood buddy and mob boss Ed Harris keeps him around out of loyalty and Harris’ wacko son Boyd Holbrook uses him for work occasionally when he’s not being a raging lunatic. Meanwhile Neeson’s son (Joel Kinnaman aka Robocop from that remake you’ve already forgotten) won’t even speak to his father and is trying to live a straight life while raising a family that’s never met grandpappy Liam. Through a series of convoluted events, Neeson is forced to kill Holbrook to save his son. Harris doesn’t take too kindly to the death of his boy so he uses all his resources to bring down Neeson and Kinnamin. That transforms New York City into a battle ground with Neeson and Kinnamin forced to fight off every Irish mobster and dirty cop in the Tri-state area along with Common as a scarred face cartoon assassin with a Terminator-style laser sight gun (even though the movie doesn’t take place in the 80s). There’s also one honest cop in Vincent D’Onofrio who Neeson hopes to help, but for the most part Liam the master throat-chopper must solve his dilemma by killing everyone in his general vicinity and then a few other dozen people just to be safe.
“Sure, you’ll be able to predict the entire plot within minutes, but you’ll never guess which of the
In the early going. Run All Night plays out surprisingly earnestly as a crime drama with Neeson and Harris going head to head in some well acted sequences that can actually be taken seriously. However, when the camera flies around New York like a music video between scenes, it’s clear that what we’re watching doesn’t even take place in a universe resembling reality. Once the narrative engine finally revs up, we’re in dumb action movie land and director Jaume Collet-Serra treats it all like a gently R-rated Looney Tunes cartoon. It’s the third time that Collet-Serra and Neeson have collaborated after Unknown and the inspired idiocy of Non-Stop and they work quite well together. Collet-Sera is always willing to give Neeson a few sequences to growl intensely and remind us all that he can actually act and then when violence fills the screen the director stages it all with an elastic sense of reality. There are sequences in which Neeson forces a police car to crash and dangles off of the side of a housing project while being shot at by Common that aren’t just entertaining, but almost slapstick in tone. It’s still hard to tell whether or not Collet-Serra makes his movies with his tongue-in-his-cheek or if his projects are so stupid that it only appears that way (he also made the minor trash classic The Orphan, which has to be seen to be believed). Regardless, the director and Neeson make of a hell of a team when it comes to ludicrous pulp.
With a cast this good there are some acting highlights between the shoot em’ ups. In particular, Neeson, Harris, and D’Onofrio all lend the movie credibility that it doesn’t deserve. No one else is as good as them, but that just adds to the accidental comedy of the messy n’ entertaining movie (although it must be said that Common is pretty bad, though that’s probably more the result of his absurd character than his straight faced portrayal of that absurdity). By the time Nick Nolte shows up for a cameo looking like a hobo and sounding like a rusty train collapsing, it’s hard not to get swept up in all the silly spectacle. Run All Night might feel like two different movies jammed together, but it flies by with the speed of a single movie so you’ll get plenty of bang for your buck. Whether it’s a ‘good’ or ‘bad’ violent blockbuster is really just a matter of taste. It’s certainly no work of art or even a particularly competent work of drama. However the flick is a hell of a lot of fun if you’re willing to give yourself over to the insanity. At this point, anyone showing up to a Liam Neeson revenge movie knows what to expect and it sure isn’t art. Thankfully, of all the trash he’s slung onto the screen since Taken unexpectedly kicked off a second act of his career, Run All Night easily ranks amongst the top of the Liam Neeson crapheap.