Each action headliner brings their own qualities to a movie and, unless we’re squaring them off in a fantasy match, movie goers really shouldn’t be comparing these movie stars against each other. But exceptions can be made when the conditions call for it and, since we’re talking about Blacklight and why it fails, let’s blend fantasy with reality.
In Blacklight, Liam Neeson reunites with filmmaker Mark Williams (Honest Thief) to play Travis Block, a “fixer” for the FBI who uses, let’s say, uncouth methods to bail out undercover agents. When Block isn’t on the clock, he struggles with OCD and paranoia; detrimental personality qualities that weigh heavily on his relationship with his daughter and granddaughter. His fears and obsessions heighten when a conspiracy is exposed to Travis after trying to reign in a rogue agent who is persistent to talk with the press.
Even if the writing is off-the-shelf action fodder, the audience can still grasp how Travis Block is a realized character. Sure, he speaks in clichés and he’s super slick with a gun. But, we sense his depth and hope the movie will strike at the subdued potential. Jason Statham occasionally receives these roles; recently with Guy Ritchie’s Wrath of Man though my favourite is 2015’s underrated Wild Card. When Statham does receive a part that requires him to do more than action choreography, he knows how to push himself to offer whatever he needs to bring to the table. Liam Neeson, on the other hand, lumbers his way through this role without any interest. His deliveries are bored, his physicality is too stiff, and his checked-out presence is comparable to a gimmicky guest on Saturday Night Live who really needs those cue cards.
Apart from the movie’s awkward souped-up editing style, the lack of nuance in Nick May’s screenplay and the uninteresting direction from Williams, Neeson’s dull performance is what ultimately sullied Blacklight for me. The actor either made a decision early on to toggle autopilot for this project, or he doesn’t realize the possibilities of this character’s range. No matter what disappointing option it is, Blacklight suggests that Liam Neeson should take a creative break to be inspired again or look closer at the movie he’s signed on to.
Neeson has proven to be a great actor (lately in dramatic films like Ordinary Love and The Ballad of Buster Scruggs). He’s far too qualified to star in movies that are unintentional parodies of disposable action flicks.
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Addison Wylie: @AddisonWylie