What would January/February be without a new Liam Neeson movie? We seem to get one every year. That isn't a bad thing in and of itself, except that a lot of them are interchangable. They're essentially variations on his smash hit Taken. Can you distinguish The Marksman from Honest Thief, Cold Pursuit, or The Commuter? Neeson's latest, Blacklight, is yet another in this line of generic action flicks, one that will best be remembered – if it's remembered at all – as the movie where Canberra, Australia unconvincingly doubles for Washington, DC.
This time around, Neeson is Travis Block, a “fixer” for an off-the-record government program run by his old friend, FBI director Gabriel Robinson (Aidan Quinn). Whenever an undercover agent becomes dangerously lost in their role, Block is sent in to rescue them. He's thinking about retiring in order to become a better grandfather to his young granddaughter. Robinson doesn't want him to leave, though, refusing to accept his resignation.
Then something occurs that makes him determined to see one last mission to completion. A once-promising agent has been attempting to make contact with a reporter, Mira Jones (Emmy Raver-Lampman). Block wants to know why. Of course, he joins forces with Mira, uncovering a horrifying conspiracy that starts with the murder of an Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez-like candidate and goes up from there. Robinson may not want him to retire, but he really doesn't want him pursuing what he finds.
Without divulging what Block learns, let me say that there was real potential in Blacklight's premise. Our politically-charged times make what happens only a few steps away from feeling completely plausible. Had the movie fully dug into that idea, it could have been an explosive thriller with stinging commentary about the political hostilities that are everywhere. Instead, the premise is nothing more than a hook that allows for the standard car chases, shootouts, and explosions. The screenplay never takes advantage of the possibilities inherent in its concept.
A subplot involving Block's tense relationship with his daughter Amanda (Claire van der Boom) is equally haphazard. She resents the way his job-related paranoia, fueled by obsessive-compulsive disorder, has spread to her daughter, making the child do things like check the locks on the doors every hour. Rather than exploring the very real ways someone like Block could be messed-up in his personal life, the film simply plays this material with all the depth of a soap opera.
Blacklight has action sequences that are slick without being truly exciting, plot twists that are easy to spot, and stock characters who behave in predictable ways. It's a competently-made picture on a technical level, yet also one where everybody appears to have been content to deliver nothing more than the bare necessities. Everything about it is lackluster. You can almost hear a studio executive shouting, “We need a new Liam Neeson action movie for this winter! Quick, slap something together!”
out of four
Blacklight is rated PG-13 for strong violence, action, and language. The running time is 1 hour and 48 minutes.