BLACKLIGHT

Reviewed by GREG KING

Director: Mark Williams

Stars: Liam Neeson, Aidan Quinn, Claire van der Bloom, Taylor John Smith, Emmy Raver-Lampman, Gabriella Sengos, Tim Draxl, Yael Stone.  

Ever since Taken (2008) reinvented Irish actor Liam Neeson as the premier action hero of cinema, he has been churning out a succession of formulaic action films of varied quality for over a decade. And while they may have been lucrative and kept him in steady work, he has become pigeonholed and not given roles that stretch him dramatically. And recently he announced that he is now 70 years old and has retired from action movies. And it’s probably a good job too as his latest mindless and formulaic shoot-em-up action yarn is amongst the least interesting of his career. 

Here Neeson plays Travis Block, a veteran FBI agent who works directly for Robinson (Aidan Quinn), the director. Working at the direction of Robinson, Block uses his own unique set of skills to rescue deep undercover agents whose cover has been revealed and thus placing them in danger. The character fits squarely into Neeson’s wheelhouse, but there are some attempts to add some depth to his tough character through a touch of OCD and his efforts to reconcile with his estranged daughter Amanda (Claire van der Bloom) and his granddaughter.  

But we take an instant dislike to Robinson as the first time we meet him he is oozing smarmy insincerity and mouthing empty platitudes  as he tries to convince Block not to quit his job but continue to work for him. He plays on their long time friendship to put pressure on him telling Block that his job is too important to let him go. Robinson is a sleazy and corrupt Hoover-like figure who is running a covert, off the books operation to assassinate American citizens whom he perceives as enemies and threats to his vision for a better America.  

Block is sent after rogue agent Dusty Crane (Taylor John Smith, from Shadow In The Cloud, etc) who is suspected of leaking official secrets to Mira Jones (Emmy Raven-Lampman), a newspaper reporter, after experiencing an attack of conscience. But after Crane is murdered by Robinson’s private hit squad Block begins to suspect a massive conspiracy, and reaches out to Mira to help uncover the truth. This puts his family in jeopardy.  

Blacklight reunites Neeson with writer/director Mark Williams who put him through his paces in the action thriller Honest Thief, which was yet another example of the generic subgenre known as the Liam Neeson action movie. Williams delivers plenty of action with car chases and shootouts, but it’s nothing we haven’t seen before in any number of other films featuring Neeson and a host of other action stars. Even the fight choreography is perfunctory. The script is terribly cliched and generic, and there are even times when Neeson himself looks a little bored with it all.  

Blacklight was filmed in Australia with Canberra and Melbourne filling in for Washington DC, and has been nicely shot by cinematographer Shelly Johnson (Greyhound, Honest Thief, etc). But I found myself distracted by playing spot the familiar landmark.  

Blacklight is easily one of the lesser films in the canon of Neeson’s action films. And while it may satisfy his hard-core fans it is an eminently forgettable and mediocre thriller, especially when compared to those classic paranoid conspiracy thrillers like The Manchurian Candidate, The Conversation, The Parallax View, etc. 

★★☆

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