Though they have absolutely nothing in common in terms of approach to craft or onscreen image, Liam Neeson has become the Nic Cage of late boomer movie stars, an actor who seems to take any part offered him regardless of the quality of the film attached. The main difference is that Cage is offered a wide variety of projects, from dumb actioners to out-there provocations to relatively thoughtful but misguided dramas, while Neeson is wanted for only one thing: retaliation stories. And though he’s proven his worth by remaining in-demand—thus implying, at least, that his movies make money—the returns in terms of thrills and surprises have been diminishing for years. When he was still doing the Taken series, his explosive obsession with killing the people who wronged him was exciting because of Leeson’s quietly coiled performance style, but that trademark character distinction requires a considerable measure of suspension of disbelief—and not just because of his age—to make it work, and the movies he’s been doing recently don’t provide that.
Blacklight contains all the Neesom trademarks: He plays a super-skilled federal operative who’s either retired or nearing retirement, with a loved one or two in mortal danger. Director Mark Williams and co-scenarist Nick May try to engage the viewer immediately by juicing the action with proof that they read their news feeds. A nominally left-wing member of congress is murdered in a hit-and-run while Neeson’s Travis Block is charged with extracting an undercover FBI agent from the clutches of a white supremacist organization that may have caught on to who he really is. These two seemingly unrelated events are, of course, shown later to be related when Block is told to convince a rogue agent to come in from the cold, but, of course, the agent’s reasons for bolting, as Block learns, are legitimate, thus placing Block in a difficult situation vis-a-vis his superior, a fellow Vietnam-era veteran named Gabe (Aidan Quinn) who has floated to the top of the organization while Block is still mostly a contract operator (the best to guarantee deniability), but one who, apparently, doesn’t have the option to quit.
The Neesomism that’s invariably tapped is Block’s main reason for retiring, which is to spend more time with his very young granddaughter, and so he doesn’t really whip himself into a righteous frenzy until he discovers a secret assassination team within the bureau that threatens his family to keep him in line. Though this story is serviceable as far as it goes—it provides Block with the necessary justification for killing at will—it has no substance in terms of realistic motivation. The political ramifications are completely elided and the characters so poorly drawn as to make them interchangeable as bodies to be perforated by bullet or blade. For a Neesom vehicle, it’s pretty boring.
Now playing in Tokyo at Shinjuku Wald 9 (03-5369-4955).
Blacklight home page in Japanese
photo (c) 2021 BL Productions LLC; Allplay Legend Corporation