Honest Thief

On the surface, Honest Thief looks like a generic Liam Neeson action picture, not much different than Taken, The Commuter, or Cold Pursuit. Viewers expecting a pissed-off Neeson to spend two hours knocking out bad guys may be slightly disappointed. Although there are a few action sequences, the movie is partly a romance, with long stretches free of guns and speeding automobiles. Most of it is saved for the finale. Aside from that, though, it really is pretty generic.

Neeson plays Tom, a bank robber who decides to give up the life of crime after falling hard for Annie (Kate Walsh), the proprietor of the storage facility where he's stashed $9 million in stolen cash. He's so serious, in fact, that he decides to turn himself in so he can serve his time and then begin a proper life with Annie. The FBI agents in charge, Meyers (Jeffrey Donovan) and Baker (Robert Patrick), don't believe his confession. They do, however, send two other agents to meet with him.

They're Nivens (Jai Courtney) and Hall (Anthony Ramos).When Tom gives them the key to his storage unit to prove he's got the money, they decide to rip him off and pin a murder on him. That throws his whole plan out of whack. Of course, Annie gets stuck in the middle of it all. Once she's imperiled – because that's all women are good for in movies like this – Tom becomes doubly determined to clear his name.

Honest Thief has one of those stories that asks you to swallow a lot. Too much, in fact. The idea of Tom loving Annie so much that he's willing to stop robbing banks is fairly credible, if perhaps a little improbable. Tom's assumption that she will understand his criminal life and wait for him while he's in jail is considerably less credible. That she does understand and is willing is less credible still. The way Niven and Hall frame him, as well as what Tom does to foil them, reaches even deeper levels of implausibility. One scene in particular involving explosives is almost laughably absurd. How, precisely, Tom carries out this action is never explained. It's more ridiculous than thrilling.

That's the main flaw with Honest Thief. Suspension of disbelief is a common requirement when watching many movies. What makes it different here is this: if you take out all the elements that are far-fetched, you're still left with a routine innocent-man-clearing-his-name thriller – one that hits all the familiar beats at all the anticipated times. Were there more to the story, accepting the less plausible bits would be easier. Without anything else driving it, the film never becomes anything more than merely watchable.

Obviously, with these actors the potential exists for something special. The ever-reliable Neeson works up charming chemistry with Walsh. Courtney and Ramos make credible villains, while Donovan takes a pointless quirk his character is saddled with – Meyers always has his small dog with him – and makes it far less obnoxious than it could have been. Everyone is clearly here to do the work. Unfortunately, the screenplay they have to rely on is more concerned with creating tension through outlandish means than it is on digging into Tom's desire to get on the straight-and-narrow path with any sort of depth.

Honest Thief could have been a great story about a guy trying to turn his life around after finding true love. Instead, it's a mediocre execution of a well-worn revenge formula.

out of four

Honest Thief is rated PG-13 for strong violence, crude references and brief strong language. The running time is 1 hour and 39 minutes.