Liam Neeson has had an unexpected third act as a later in life action movie star and this week he's back in "Cold Pursuit", his latest shoot them up revenge caper.
In "Cold Pursuit" Liam Neeson (66) stars as Nels Coxman, a hard-working family man in a small town in Colorado whose rural life is upended when his innocent son comes into contact with a ruthless group of drug dealers.
No sooner does his son, who works as a baggage handler at the local airstrip, run afoul of these heavies but he's kidnapped and cruelly murdered. Here's a twist though, the actor playing Neeson's son actually is his son, Micheal Richardson. Talk about keeping it in the family.
After they identify his body Nels and his wife Grace (Laura Dern) are startled to find the young man has apparently died of a drug overdose. How could we not have known our son was doing drugs she asks her husband? But our son wasn't a druggy, Nels insists.
This sharp divergence of opinion leads to tension in the marriage and before you can say “I think there may be more to this situation” Grace has already moved out.
Then Nels son's old buddy conveniently stops by for a by the numbers "tell me the truth" interrogation scene where he finally spills the beans: it was a drug deal gone wrong and Nel's son just got mixed up in it as collateral damage.
No sooner does Nels hear this but he goes on a one-man vendetta to find out who, how and why his son ended up dead. Being the man who ploughs the snow for the snowbound town, he takes the form of transport that he's most comfortable in, looking like the force of nature the films telegraphs he is.
Nels son has been murdered by what those in the drugs trade call a “gym bag,” specifically by a ruthless thug with the nickname Speedo. Nels finds him sitting in a city nightclub drinking champagne and no sooner do the two men meet but Nels is busy breaking his jaw and finding out who hired him to do the hit.
So "Cold Pursuit" has its second victim and the body count clock is set at two as each new murder after that tops the preceding one for violence and gore, of course.
If anyone knows about the pointlessness of revenge shootings it's the generation who grew up during the Troubles - and Irish actor Liam Neeson, 66, originally from Ballymena, is one of them.
When we finally get a good look at the kingpin who ordered the hit on Nels son he's everything a film like this suggests he should be, a slimy misogynist creep, a control freak and a budding sociopath.
But what's odd about "Cold Pursuit", right from the beginning, is the film's weird tone of levity. Is it a thriller, a thriller comedy, a thriller noir, a revenge drama, a takedown of toxic masculinity or all of these and more?
You'll understand you're supposed to not take it too seriously early on but at what point do you surrender any hint of lived reality and why? There's more than a hint of Martin McDonagh's plague on all your houses cynicism as the film unspools. But if even the script doesn't like the players why should we?
Nels big snowplow may be a metaphor for a man imposing his will on wild nature and disorder, or it may just be a plot device for the no holds barred finale where a man is spectacularly killed with a felled tree. Unfortunately, you won't really care by the time it rolls around.
The music increasingly tells us not to take the fact that Nels is shooting thugs with a shotgun we watched him saw off earlier too seriously. They're bad guys after all. They have it coming to them. There are rules to big dumb popcorn movies like this so play by the rules I guess.
But Neeson is a gifted actor and a great screen star and he brings far more gravitas and skill to his role than this script necessarily demands. In the cartoon world of "Cold Pursuit" the bad guys are evil and incompetent. It's a macho appendage waving competition that leaves nothing out.
The script often sounds like an initiation rite for homicidal libertarian frat boys. Women and minorities are portrayed as untrustworthy or inexplicable. The female police officer who is introduced in the second act is competent and a smart investigator but she patronized by the men around her and then almost forgotten about by the film's final reel.
Into this already overcooked stew, the writer introduces yet another anguished father whose son has been murdered by the same drugs cartel and wouldn't you know it he's after revenge too.
The Native American father in search of revenge is called White Bull. The white drug dealer who had his and Nel's sons killed is called the Viking. The Eskimo is a hitman who Nels employs to bump the Viking off. But the Eskimo tells the Viking he's under contract and so the Viking bumps off the Eskimo instead.
Tonally, as you can tell, "Cold Pursuit" is an increasingly mixed bag, but it doesn't matter. Pretty much everyone is getting bumped off. Corpses and severed heads abound.
You can see that the script is tilting toward satire, because when a body count becomes this big things can move beyond tragedy into farce, but the tone is so clumsily orchestrated that you start to wonder if the writers are a bunch of adolescent boys trying to outdo themselves in terms of giving offense and blowing raspberries.
The film says look at these hateful idiots and don't make their their foul mistakes, but it over indulges their deep ugliness first, which means we don't care what happens to them in the beginning or at the end.
"Cold Pursuit" may fancy it's making a big statement about the vanity of preening men as it offers their long awaited comeuppances to us as entertainment.
But unexpectedly "Cold Pursuit" is a rare misfire for Neeson. It's the kind of big dumb pantomime script full of coincidences and one-note characters and that Martin McDonagh likes to write, and that often proves hugely popular, but it's an inch deep and even less memorable.