Producers: Mark Williams, Paul Currie, Myles Nestel, Aleve Loh and Coco Xiaolu Ma Director: Mark Williams Screenplay: Nick May and Mark Williams Cast: Liam Neeson, Emmy Raver-Lampman, Taylor John Smith, Aidan Quinn, Claire van der Boom, Yael Stone, Gabriella Sengos, Tim Draxl and Andrew Shaw Distributor: Briarcliff Entertainment
The Steven Seagalization of Liam Neeson continues in this inane would-be action thriller about skullduggery at the FBI. Given its low view of the Bureau, it’s no wonder it was actually made in Australia, “with,” as the final credits report, “the assistance of the Australian government.”
The script by Nick May and director Mark Williams doesn’t even try to be clever; it’s a humdrum tale of governmental corruption that might look back to the paranoid political pictures of the 1970s but has none of their potency.
Neeson plays Travis Block, the ultimate fixer for grim FBI Director Gabriel Robinson (Aidan Quinn), whom he’s known since they served a tour—and a traumatic experience revealed late in the movie—in Vietnam. Block is the man Robinson turns to when it’s necessary to rescue undercover agents from precarious situations, which he does with practiced efficiency through any means necessary (except killing, he insists).
One of the assets Block saved was Dusty Crane (Taylor John Smith), a young fellow who begins to suspect some foul play on the part of his superiors when Sofia Flores (Mel Jarnson), a pretty anti-establishment agitator he’s involved with, is killed in a highly suspicious hit-and-run. When Dusty decides to share the information he has with investigative reporter Mira Jones (Emmy Raver-Lampman), Travis tries to save him from making a terrible mistake. But when Crane is killed, Block begins to believe that he was on to something.
That puts our hero into conflict with Robinson, who, as it turns out, has an exalted notion of his duty to maintain the social status quo in America. Put another way, he thinks that the methods of J. Edgar Hoover need to be resurrected and even strengthened. (He doesn’t, however, share the fabled director’s penchant for cross-dressing, at least not that we can tell.) Block can’t go along with that, and so at precisely the one-hour point in “Blacklight” he tells Robinson, “My end is now, right now.” Unfortunately, the picture runs for another forty minutes.
There is, of course, a familial subplot—de rigueur in any Neesom action flick. Admitting that he’s not been a very good father or grandfather, he’s trying to repair his relationship with his daughter Amanda (Claire van der Boom), whose husband has left her, and be a loving granddad to sweet little Natalie (Gabriella Sengos), who adores him. But his escalating battle with Robinson keeps intruding, and when Amanda and Natalie suddenly disappear, he really gets angry with his old boss.
The last reels of “Blacklight” pull out the action topoi. There are chases on foot and in cars, and one protracted shoot-out when Travis invades Robinson’s house to force him to hand over proof of his perfidy. But even as the mayhem ratchets up, excitement is sorely lacking. There are no twists of any consequence here—subplots bringing in Mira’s colleagues Drew (Tim Draxl) and Helen (Yael Stone) are merely boring, featuring dead lines like “The American people need to know the truth!” (you might think this was intended as a parody of “The Parallax View” or “Three Days of the Condor”)—and Mark Isham’s score pom-poms and groans like so many others nowadays without appreciable effect.
And when the climax comes, it’s oddly perfunctory and flat, as if Williams had run out of money (or maybe ideas) and editor Michael P. Shawver had no footage to play with. A coda in which Block reconnects happily with his Amanda and Natalie is not a successful substitute.
The picture strains to look as though it were DC-shot—a few inserts at the beginning are almost laughable—but otherwise Michelle McGahey’s production design and Shelly Johnson’s cinematography are adequate.
As far as Neeson is concerned, he comes across as even more drained and gloomy than he’s been in his other recent efforts. At one point Crane disparages Block’s declining skills (just before he’s shot himself)—“You’re slipping—you’re losing your edge!” he shouts. As events prove, that’s not true of Block, but it seems to fit the actor playing him. Quinn, meanwhile, plays his part so brazenly that anyone who doesn’t finger him as a villain from his first scene should probably be remanded to Film 101. Everybody else in the cast—especially Raver-Lampman and Smith—seem to be only one step removed from amateur status, though Sengos is a sweetie.
The quality of Neeson’s action movies have been in precipitous decline for some time now, but one hopes that with this piece of tripe he’ll realize he’s hit rock bottom. Maybe he should try a comedy—an intentional one—for a change.