Liam Neeson can't save awkward 'Run All Night'

Run All Night - C

Didn't anyone read the script before this movie got put into production? Wasn't the blander than bland title a clue? Screenwriter Brad Ingelsby's Run All Night occasionally nails its grizzled ’70s tough guy shtick with confessions that ache with moral regret, but mostly it delivers a tired jumble of sloppy genre cliches, stupid character choices, and unnecessary action sequences.

Once upon a time, radio serials would leave their heroes caught in some ineluctable cliffhanger, only to have the next episode begin with the protagonists free of danger and explaining away their escape with exclamations of "Good thing you had that rope!" Run All Night has a similar moment, where Jimmy Conlon (Liam Neeson) and his son Mike (Joel Kinnaman) are seemingly trapped in a housing project bathroom, surrounded by an army of cops. Moments later they're scrambling to freedom in a different location, undetected by their pursuers. How did they get there? Who knows.

You never would’ve guessed things could go so wrong from the film's gripping first act. Neeson plays an aging, alcoholic hitman haunted by his past. Ed Harris is his best friend, Shawn, an aging mobster trying to distance himself from his violent past. Unfortunately, Shawn's son Danny (Boyd Holbrook) is a loose cannon who's indebted to Serbian drug dealers. When the goons show up at his apartment looking to collect their money, things go south quickly, leaving an innocent limo driver — Jimmy's estranged son Mike — as a witness. Danny goes after Mike, Jimmy stops him with a bullet to the neck, and decades of friendship dissolve in an instant. Shawn demands an eye for an eye, sending thugs, corrupt cops, and even an assassin (a beardless Common) after Jimmy's boy. Only when his son is dead and he too is hollowed out by grief will Shawn finally end Jimmy's miserable existence.

This, of course, means car chases, gun fights, bathroom beatdowns, an elaborate showdown in the housing project, and a game of cat-and-mouse in a city train yard. Most of it is brutal but predictable, with each encounter becoming increasingly illogical, doing little to advance the plot. Run All Night is the kind of movie where Jimmy and Mike are chased by an unstoppable, super-deadly assassin with a laser-sighted gun and night-vision specs who, well, can't seem to hit his intended targets and proves to be far less unstoppable than appearances might indicate.

Spanish director Jaume Collet-Serra tries to spice things up with CGI-enhanced Google Maps effects that zoom and swoop us from one New York City neighborhood to the next, but the gimmick wears thin after a while and is abandoned two-thirds of the way into the film.

It's hard to parse what attracted such a good cast (which includes Nick Nolte and Vincent D'Onofrio) to such a misbegotten script. Neeson has made a successful late-stage career of playing distraught men of action, and, of course, lends gravitas without breaking a sweat. Kinnaman (Robocop) is solid as his upright and incredibly bitter son, and Harris turns in the best work he's done in years. Scene for scene, the actors make the good exchanges pop and the hackneyed dialogue less painful to listen to. They give the film far more consideration than it deserves. But other than the opportunity to continue his highly profitable collaborations with Collet-Serra — Non-Stop earned $222 million and Unknown brought in $130 million — Neeson is clearly punching below his weight class.

And that's the conundrum. It's hard to criticize Neeson for wanting to fatten his bank account as he brings his A-game to unworthy projects. But it does make you wonder if the Oscar-nominated actor will ever again seek out projects that challenge and deserve him. One can only hope.

Run All Night is rated R and 114 minutes.

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