Blacklight stars Liam Neeson as FBI “fixer” Travis Block tasked with investigating the aftermath of the assassination of a young political activist. As you can expect with this sort of thing, conspiracy thriller shenanigans abound, cars are chased, guns are fired, and Neeson is given his usual gravelly threatening speeches. The film tweaks the Neeson formula a bit as the film has more screen time spent on the character’s internal life. Nevertheless, you can expect the usual hijinks.
Like many, I have grown somewhat tired of Liam Neeson action movies. Since 2008’s Taken, Neeson has averaged over an action movie per year. Fatigue is almost inevitable when, as here, each of those movies invariably centers upon Neeson as some sort of special agent with a “very particular set of skills” for wounding bad guys. What has helped set Neeson apart from his action peers, and largely kept his movies in theaters while similarly aged action heroes from Schwarzenneger to Willis to Stallone have often seen VOD purgatory, is that he genuinely seems more committed to actually acting in these movies than others.
Neeson is long viewed as a “serious actor” with a list of Academy Award, Golden Globe, BAFTA, and Tony award nominations on his resume. The base appeal of “serious actor” Liam Neeson mowing down baddies remains appealing. Even within these movies, Neeson seems committed to selling what is often some extremely banal dialogue. Blacklight is not a well written movie. Characters express their emotions and intentions in ways that are entirely divorced from how normal humans speak to one another. And yet, Neeson manages to find little notes of humanity in the macho bluster. His relationship with his adult daughter (played by Aussie actress Claire van der Boom) and her young daughter is well played despite the script. It feels like Neeson is really striving to elevate the human elements of the story around him.
The seams are fully on display here. Blacklight is a story set in the United States; however, it was filmed in Australia. It’s clear that the budget allowed for Block’s sports car to make it down under, but not so the chase vehicles. Accordingly, we end up with driving scenes where the hero drives from the left side of the car while the enemy’s truck is driven from the right side. Although the blood capsules are very fake; the supporting actors are mostly unknown to American audiences; and the fight scenes are, if anything, under-produced; I, strangely, found all the messiness charming. Perhaps it’s the plasticine feel of so many CGI aided low budget action movies these days, but I appreciated some underfunded reality in the overwhelming morass of rear projection fakery.
In the pantheon of Liam Neeson action movies, this doesn’t approach the heights of his gloriously goofy quadrilogy of collaborations with Jaume Collet-Serra (Non-Stop the best among them) but it also avoids the grinding banality of the Taken sequels or of something like last year’s The Marksman. It is clear from the somewhat diminished actual action in the film that we might be approaching the end of Neeson’s time in these sort of roles so I do think it is worth appreciating the fun he has given the willing masses. This is certainly not the movie that will convert the uninterested to Neeson’s specific oeuvre of badassery, but for my money the thrills are sufficient to slake the desires of the actor’s fans.
Blacklight is in theaters on February 11, 2022.