It’s time for our biannual Liam Neeson movie. This time around, Neeson’s reteamed with director Jaume Collet-Serra, who made the passably entertaining Non-Stop (2014) and Unknown (2011), the more middling films of Neeson’s cinematic tough guy renaissance. (For the record, it goes A Walk Among Tombstones (2014), the Collet-Serra films and the Taken franchise somewhere in the septic tank with all the heaps of cash it made.) At least, I think they were middling. I reviewed both of them and — according to the words I wrote at the time — minded neither of them, but I’ll be damned if I remember much of either one (besides Neeson playing a killer botanist in Unknown, of course).
My guess is that I’ll be saying the same about Run All Night one day. It has moments where it gets things right, but it is too emotionally involved — while also being clunky in that regard — to work. It understands the strengths of Neeson as action star well enough, eschewing the spy/assassin mold of the Takens by building a more noirish crime thriller around him, an approach that worked so well in A Walk Among Tombstones. The first 20 minutes of the film are a series of swirling contrivances, with Neeson playing Jimmy, an alcoholic with — thanks to years as a hitman for mob boss Shawn (Ed Harris) — a dirty conscience and an estranged son, Mike (Joel Kinnaman, Robocop), who despises him. Mike, who’s a limo driver, picks up some shady characters who end up murdered at Danny’s (Boyd Holbrook, Gone Girl), who happens to be Shawn’s son. After Jimmy’s sent by Shawn to make sure Mike won’t go to the police, Danny ends up dead, and Jimmy and Mike must, well, run all night and fix things while dodging Shawn’s various goons.
As complicated and silly as the setup sounds — tangling up this many people by happenstance in a city as gigantic as New York is damned hard to buy — the plot settles down once the gears get turning. This is both a good and bad thing. As far as pluses go, the action scenes are exciting and well constructed. There’s a solid, nicely visceral car chase, while an extended action scene through a public housing high rise is well staged. In these moments, Run All Night excels. Unfortunately, the movie wants to have some heft — gumming up its momentum with hoary meditations on the meaning of family and fatherhood. There’s Jimmy, who wants to protect his son, Mike, who hates his father; Shawn, who wants to avenge his son’s death to cure his sorrow; and Danny, who (at least before he gets offed) just wants his father’s respect. None of it’s particularly well drawn, and it feels incredibly simplistic, meaning — at the same time — that it’s not very interesting. It’s a whole lot of daddy issues in a movie that only really works when it’s going full bore, a combination that doesn’t wreck Run All Night, but certainly hinders things. Rated R for strong violence, language including sexual references and some drug use.