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‘Blacklight’ a dim bulb

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The king of geriaction is back!

Liam Neeson, whose late-career pivot into action movies essentially invented a subgenre, has returned to the big screen once more to utilize his particular set of skills. Said skills may vary somewhat from film to film, but fundamentally, they remain forever the same.

His latest outing is “Blacklight,” directed by Mark Williams from a screenplay by Nick May. It’s the story of a veteran law enforcement agent who inadvertently gets wrapped up in a conspiracy that reaches high into the halls of power and if he’s to have any hope of saving himself and those close to him, he’s going to have to root out the corrupt evildoers himself – by any means necessary.

That might ring a bell, because Neeson has made half-a-dozen movies that could easily fit that description. We're deep into variations on a theme territory here; it’s a movie that is largely devoid of surprises because, again, you’ve seen it all before. Honestly, the biggest (only?) surprise about “Blacklight” is that it is somewhat inexplicably not a Netflix offering. Theatrical release all the way, baby – just as geriaction is meant to be seen!

This time, Neeson’s character is named Travis Block. He’s the guy that alphabet agencies – specifically, the FBI – call when they need to rescue their deep cover agents who wind up getting in over their heads. Off the books, of course, at the behest of his longtime friend FBI Director Gabriel Robinson (Aidan Quinn). His particular set of skills – and no, they don’t call them that, but you know his skills are particular; they even count OCD as one of them, which is just one of the many problems with this movie – helps him both with the in-the-moment action and the subsequent emotional debriefing.

The rigors and unpredictability of this job have had consequences over the years. His relationship to his family is fraught – his daughter Amanda (Claire van der Boom) doesn’t trust him to develop a healthy relationship with his granddaughter Natalie (Gabriella Sengos) and worries that his own deep-seated paranoia is rubbing off on the girl.

But when a deep cover agent named Dusty Crane (Taylor John Smith) goes rogue, Travis has to try and help talk him down. However, it soon becomes clear that Dusty – who has reached out to a reporter at a vaguely-defined news website – has information that he believes is important to share with the world. Said reporter – a woman named Mira Jones (Emmy Raver-Lampman) – gets swept up into the maelstrom as well, leaving Travis to try and determine just what it is that Dusty knows … and what the consequences of that knowledge might be.

And there we have it, another disposable piece of geriaction that will keep Liam Neeson in Earl Grey and blazers for a few more months.

“Blacklight” is not a good movie. That’s obvious on its face. But it’s a perfectly acceptable version of what it is – a vehicle for Liam Neeson to engage in slow-motion foot chases and creakily thrown punches, all while stepping aside for the stunt performers at the slightest opportunity. There are some long-broken family dynamics at play as well, along with a conspiracy that reaches surprisingly high.

In some ways, this movie feels like a harbinger of what the movie business is becoming. This movie – released in hundreds and hundreds of theaters – will sink like a stone and vanish in a week or two. However, had it hit Netflix, I have no doubt it would have made the service’s top-10 and made significantly more noise.

Yes, it’s dumb. There are a handful of moments at which I almost certainly was not supposed to laugh, and yet I laughed anyway. I imagine you’ll have some of those moments as well, should you make the questionable choice of going to see this movie.

The action sequences leave a lot to be desired. There are some vehicular chases that really do appear to consist of little more than circling the same few blocks over and over again – you start to recognize familiar landmarks at a certain point. A couple of the more rescue-y moments are OK, but they’re more than undermined by Neeson’s undeniably slow-motion fights. And the number of foot chases borders on cruelty – Liam’s not getting any younger, you know, and these are the spots where that is ABUNDANTLY clear. This creakiness is a feature of geriaction, rather than a bug, however, so as always your mileage may vary.

As for the narrative, well … these movies are rarely all that concerned with nuance, even if they sometimes pretend that they are. “Blacklight” might have one of the more egregious such feints – we kick things off with a rally/protest led by a cardboard cutout of a progressive activist, giving a fiery speech that hits a lot of basic left-leaning talking points before becoming the inciting incident that leads to Liam Neeson Liam Neesoning. From there, it’s into full-on “bad apples” territory regarding law enforcement overreach and the like. Everyone you think is bad is bad and everyone you think is good is good. Mix in the fact that the bad guys’ “plan” is both vague and nonsensical and you’re left with something quite stupid.

The performances in “Blacklight” are … precisely what you’d expect. Neeson is on cruise control, doing basically the same bit he’s been doing for the past decade-plus. We do get a bit of a spin when gets squinty when his OCD powers kick in (seriously, it’s SO dumb), but otherwise, it’s the same old song and dance. The supporting cast is superfluous. Quinn chews some scenery. Smith comes off like a sentient jawline, while van der Boom and Raver-Lampmann feel like non-entities. At least the kid is cute.

As something of a geriaction connoisseur, I found “Blacklight” to be somewhat wanting. It’s fine if you want to make a movie via this well-worn formula, but if you’re going to paint by numbers, you should probably try to use more than one or two colors.

[1.5 out of 5]

Last modified on Monday, 14 February 2022 10:51

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