Note to actors of a certain age: it’s probably advisable to set aside screenplays in which your first line of dialogue is “I’ve done some terrible things in my life.” It’s an admonition that Liam Neeson ignored in agreeing to star in “Run All Night,” and though the result is hardly the worst of his recent vehicles, it’s still no great shakes. Viewers who, after three installments of the “Taken” series, “Unknown” and “Non-Stop,” still haven’t had their fill of Neeson as an aging action hero will undoubtedly embrace this picture, a virtual compendium of action clichés that’s efficiently made but in the end totally superfluous.
The difference between the movie directed by Jaume Collet-Serra (who also helmed “Unknown” and “Non-Stop”) and the “Taken” pictures is that in this case the family member whom Neeson’s character (here an over-the-hill hit-man named Jimmy “The Gravedigger” Conlon) is trying to protect hasn’t been kidnapped or killed, he’s merely threatened with death, along with his dad. Jimmy’s estranged son Mike (Joel Kinnaman) finds his life in danger when mob kingpin Shawn Maguire (Ed Harris) targets him because Jimmy has killed Shawn’s out-of-control boy Danny (Boyd Holbrook). Naturally Jimmy is determined to save Mike from Shawn’s wrath, despite the fact that the he and Maguire are old comrades-in-arms, having grown up together, and Shawn has been his employer for years.
The fracas that sets the plot in motion is too wacky to explain in detail, but it involves a drug deal gone bad and Danny’s killing of a couple Albanian gangsters who just happen to have hired the limo that Mike, an ex-boxer with a wife and two lovely daughters and a grudge against his absentee father, drives. When Danny comes after Mike, who witnessed the crime, Jimmy saves him with a bullet, setting Shawn off on a vendetta against the duo. There follow, among other episodes, a prolonged car chase involving Jimmy’s muscle car and a police cruiser housing a handcuffed Mike and a couple of corrupt cops on Maguire’s payroll; a brutal fight between Jimmy and a beefy mobster (Holt McCallany) in a subway restroom; a cat-and-mouse pursuit of father and son by a maniacal contract killer named Price (Common) in what becomes an exploding apartment building; a culminating stand-off between Jimmy and Shawn, first in the bar that serves as Maguire’s headquarters (lots of corpses pile up there) and then at a suitably photogenic rail terminal.; and then, to top it all off, the reappearance of Price, taking aim against the entire Conlon clan at an isolated lakeside cabin.
Collet-Serra divides up these action set-pieces by inserting establishing shots of New York City neighborhoods, shot—in his preferred style—in supercharged fast-mo to bring out all the neon lights. (The oh-so-atmospheric cinematography is by Martin Ruhe, with aerial photography by Brian Heller.) There are so many of these that if they were excised, the running-time would probably be reduced by a good five minutes—which would be a virtue in an overlong picture that runs nearly two hours.
Other characters loiter at the fringes of the action, including a fatherless black kid good-guy Mike is mentoring in the so-called sweet science; Mike’s ever-supportive wife Gabriela (Genesis Rodriguez); a cop (Vincent D’Onofrio) obsessed with making Jimmy pay for his crimes, which makes him the only flatfoot who can be trusted when push comes to shove; and an aged relative father and son take refuge with after Jimmy’s been shot. It might take you a while to recognize the actor playing the part unbilled, beneath the whiskers and ponytailed hair; but damned if it doesn’t turn out to be Nick Nolte. The voice is a dead giveaway.
Throughout all the pandemonium Neeson works hard, not only in meeting the physical demands but in bringing a touch of soulful melancholy to the part, and Harris too gives the stock kingpin role more heft than it deserves. Kinnaman, on the other hand, remains an uninteresting actor with little to offer beyond a generalized roughness. Nobody else makes much of an impression, though D’Onofrio throws his weight around with his customary pugnacity.
“Run All Night” delivers on the promise of its title, but when it wheezes its way to the finish line, you’re apt to feel exhausted just having watched it.