Liam Neeson, as we always note, has a very particular set of skills. It isn’t just Neeson’s on screen characters that do, it’s the man himself. The actor has the ability to portray aging killers with a heart of gold with aplomb. We have seen him do it multiple times—and I’ve noted, more than once, that these action-thriller films need to be looked at as their own genre and on their own sliding scale. The actor’s latest, “Blacklight,” is no different.
Directed by Mark Williams with a script from Nick May and Williams, “Blacklight” features Neeson as Travis Block, an off-the-books FBI operative who works directly for current FBI director Gabriel Robinson (Aidan Quinn). Block’s job is simple to describe but difficult to execute – he retrieves agents who have gone undercover and found themselves in trouble. Why this has to be off-the-books is one of those things that is necessitated by the plot more than arising from any sort of logic, but that’s the kind of movie we have with “Blacklight.” Yes, even on the Neeson sliding scale, this one lands somewhere closer to silly than successful.
Block is more than just an operative though, that would be boring. Instead, there is an attempt to round out Block by giving him a personal life. He has an adult daughter, Amanda (Claire Van Der Boom), and a young grand daughter, Natalie (Gabriella Sengos). Unfortunately, the relationships are not built in a way to make the two women feel like much more than a hollow attempt at depth and to raise those ever important stakes.
The same is true of Block having OCD. Neeson’s character regular talks about checking things multiple times due to the OCD, but the existence of this facet of Block is much more about his interactions with his daughter and granddaughter than the sort of significant part of his life the lip service discussions suggest it to be. In fact, when “Blacklight” decides it’s time for the happy ending and credits to roll, any and all problems in regards to Block’s OCD’s effects on Natalie and Amanda are set aside. With what the movie sees as the main part of the story done, the OCD is forgotten.
As ever, Neeson is game and tries to make a go of it, no matter how foolish a connected side plot with a reporter, Mira (Emmy Raver-Lampman), might get nor the presence of thorny troubles faced by a fellow agent, Dusty (Taylor John Smith). Heck, Block’s ability to get up close and personal with the head of the FBI multiple times despite the Crane not wanting that to happen might cause some actors to stumble, but not Neeson – he gamely tries to sell it. We might not always buy it, but Neeson absolute does what he can with the material.
That said, this is also the main issue with the movie – over and over again Neeson is forced to try to sell things that make no sense. Neeson’s work doesn’t quite rise to the level of parody here, but no one else is even close and the entire tale from start to finish almost demands it. Beyond that, there isn’t a feeling that those in the movie understand the silliness of it all. It is all very straight-laced and serious, even as foolishness such as Mira’s scummy editor, Drew (Tim Draxl), stealing her story and then standing by the decision to steal it and then suddenly apologizing, all of which happens solely so that the plot can move forward.
The action sequences are engaging enough, but are neither impressive nor terribly memorable. Everything in “Blacklight” is shot in relatively bland fashion. Just as with the story itself, moments that feel as though they might head somewhere interesting all too often peter out before arriving at said destination.
For better or worse (worse, probably) “Blacklight” represents the typical sort of affair we now regularly expect from Neeson. It is full of hints of a far better, far more engrossing, movie, one that doesn’t come to fruition, but there are also plenty of opportunities for “Blacklight” to explore paths far worse than the ones it goes down. Neeson fans may get a kick out of moments, but few others will enjoy it.
photo credit: Briarcliff Entertainment