Let’s lay them out in order, shall we?
“Taken,” “The Other Man,” “The Next Three Days,” “Unknown,” “The Grey,” “Taken 2,” “Non Stop,” “Taken 3,” “Run All Night,” “The Commuter.”
That’s the rather hefty list of hard-bitten thrillers Liam Neeson has made since emerging as an unlikely action star way back in 2008.
The thing is, most of these movies were pretty entertaining.
Yes, both of the “Taken” sequels stunk -- while “Unknown” was, by contrast, a smart and twisty little sleeper. The rest weren’t exactly masterpieces; but they did their formula-driven escapist duty, providing a decent night’s diversion, with plenty of room for Neeson’s special brand of sympathetic toughness.
The same can be said for the latest of these.
“Cold Pursuit” stars the 66-year-old actor as Nels Coxman, a hard-working Colorado snowplow driver whose son is killed by drug-dealers. As this wrecks both Coxman’s emotional health and his marriage, he sets out to find the men responsible and kill them one by one.
I’m sorry to say that there isn’t much more to the plot than this.
Writer Frank Baldwin, reworking a 2016 Norwegian film called “In Order of Disappearance,” manages to generate and then bring together three fairly absorbing plot strands -- which makes for an effective climax. But unlike some of the more convoluted Neeson vehicles (“The Commuter,” “Non Stop”), “Cold Pursuit” is, if anything, a bit underplotted. Worse yet, the downbeat ending leaves an awful lot of questions unanswered -- particularly what happened to the other snowplow, and to Coxman’s wife.
Fortunately, the somewhat blasé storyline is offset by a mild tongue-in-cheek tone that nets some genuine laughs at unlikely moments. Some of this is achieved through a handful of oddball characters, including two gay henchmen and a mouthy Asian wife (“She’ll skin you alive,” warns the beleaguered husband).
Frankly, the movie’s gently satirical approach should have been applied more broadly, as it contrasts uncomfortably with the excessive pain and violence -- which simply cannot be laughed at.
If Baldwin and director Hans Petter Moland had toned down the gore and grief while turning up the humor a notch or two, they might have given us something unique in the Neeson canon.
Instead, they’ve made another low-brow actioner which, thanks to the star’s distinct blend of gravitas and likability, is certainly entertaining enough, but never especially clever or original.
directed by Hans Petter Moland
Run time: 118 min.
* * 1/2 (out of four)
Rated R for strong violence and language