Producers: Mark Williams, Myles Nestel, Tai Duncan, Craig Chapman and Jonah Loop Director: Mark Williams Screenplay: Mark Williams Cast: Liam Neeson, Kate Walsh, Jeffrey Donovan, Jai Courtney, Anthony Ramos and Robert Patrick Distributor: Open Road Films and Briarcliff Entertainment
After a brief sojourn into family dramedy with “Made in Italy,” in which he co-starred with his son Micheál Richardson, Liam Neeson returns to his latter-day bread-and-butter—the inane but pulse-pounding action movie—with Mark Williams’ “Honest Thief.” It’s incredibly dumb, but will undoubtedly satisfy the audience for whom the actor has become the very model of a two-fisted senior hero, a category in which only Clint Eastwood remains a real rival, though he’s slowed down considerably in his recent efforts.
Here Neeson plays Tom Carter, a highly proficient bank robber who’s amassed nine million over the years )his modus operandi is to hit small-town banks with old vaults over long weekends, getting in through air-conditioning vents, drilling through the walls and rebuilding them after he’s done) and gained a degree of notoriety as the press-dubbed “In-and-Out Bandit,” though he dislikes the nickname. After he starts a relationship with Annie (Kate Walsh), the manager of the storage facility in which he’s secreted the loot, however, he decides to start with a clean slate. He makes an offer to the FBI to turn in all his ill-gotten gains, hopefully in return for a recommendation for as light a sentence as the law will allow.
That idea, however, doesn’t count on the intentions of nefarious agent Nivens (Jai Courtney) and his go-along partner Hall (Anthony Ramos). They conspire not only to take the loot for themselves but frame Carter for the murder of their boss Baker (Robert Patrick), who gave them jurisdiction in working out the details. That leads to a typical Neeson-style war with them while their straight-arrow colleague Meyers (Jeffrey Donovan) is doggedly pursuing the supposedly dangerous robber on a separate track.
Of course, Carter proves no slouch when pushed to the wall. As a bank robber he might have been no more menacing than Robert Redford was in “The Old Man & the Gun” (indeed, he’s even less so since he doesn’t confront anyone). but now his fighting abilities come to the fore. An ex-Marine with iron-hard fists and a background in demolition—and of course a man with supreme driving skills, necessary to allow for the tire-screeching car chases the actor’s fans have come to expect—Carter outdoes the bad guys at every turn, and when she learns about his past, Annie proves a reluctantly compliant confederate. There’s really no doubt about how this is going to turn out, is there?
“Honest Thief” is just another run-of-the-mill, totally implausible Neeson action movie, but it does what his fans have come to expect proficiently. Williams has provided a script sturdy enough to hang the set pieces on, which is all that matters, and Neeson, who by now might be expected to walk through such stuff without expending much effort, still invests his thankless role with grim ferocity. Walsh makes a likable partner for him, and the supporting cast do what’s demanded of them with a professional air. The technical side of things is equally capable, with Shelly Johnson’s camerawork and Michael P. Shawver’s editing combining to provide the necessary excitement while Mark Isham’s score adds to the propulsive momentum.
One may regret an actor as good as Neeson having fallen into his senior-action-movie-hero rut, but if the income from such disposable pieces of nonsense like this gives him the freedom to take on more challenging projects from time to time, maybe the price is worth it. This movie at least conforms to the adjective in the title—it’s the pulp idiocy it’s advertised as, no more but no less.