Liam Neeson (“Taken”) has made another action movie (at the age of 71) but there isn’t much action required of him, other than driving a car and peering into the side mirror a lot.
The movie is a remake (the third) of the Dani de la Torreia film “El Desopascido” (2015). It is a bit of a “Speed” rip-off, in that businessman Matt Turner is trapped in his car, with his two children, by an unknown assailant who contacts him via cell phone and warns him that, if he or the kids try to get out of the car or he doesn’t drive as instructed, the vehicle will blow up.
There is a bomb planted beneath the seats and if Neeson or his son or daughter get out of the car, the change in pressure will automatically detonate the hidden bomb. To prove that he isn’t fooling around, the anonymous criminal blows up a car with a hapless couple inside, so that Neeson can realize he is serious. It also turns out that it is so that Neeson’s car is seen by the authorities in the vicinity where the first explosion occurs and they will begin targeting and chasing him, assuming he is to blame for all the carnage.
From there on, it is pretty much Liam Neeson driving around and doing whatever the anonymous voice on the phone tells him to do, even after both of his car doors have been removed. (A passerby tells the hapless driver this, speaking in German.) I was somewhat confused by the melange of languages. It appears that Liam and family are full-time residents of Germany (Berlin, specifically) but they don’t seem to speak the language. Yet they seem to understand televsion in the native tongue and there is no real explanation of why none of the Turner clan is bi-lingual. (Weird).
Neeson is not having a good day, as he learns during the ordeal that his wife (Embeth Davidtz, with whom Neeson worked in “Schindler’s List”) is having a meeting with a divorce attorney. Plus, his two children are mouthy and pretty annoying, especially early on. Lilly Aspell, who played the young “Wonder Woman” in that film (2017), plays his daughter, Emily Turner, and Jack Champion (“Avatar: The Way of Water,” 2022) portrays the teen-aged Zach Turner.They are typical in being addicted to their cell phones, but their hostile reactions to most requests (“Get in the car.” “Give me your cell phone.”) make them less-than-likeable.
At one point I turned to my spouse and said, “At what point did Matt lose control of his children.” It was not a remark without foundation. We are given only the slightest of clues about why Heather Turner (Matt’s wife) might be talking to a divorce attorney, but one of the main reasons seems to be that he is a workaholic and frequently leaves her holding the parenting bag, even if he was alerted in advance that he needed to pitch in that day.. At one point, the script has Liam Neeson say, “I’ve had better days,” which caused me to laugh out loud.
I also thought some of the other scripted lines were excessively formulaic and bore little relationship to what was happening onscreen. One example: “You don’t run from a challenge. You take it on.” [Well, maybe not if the challenge is keeping your car from blowing up while your two children are trapped inside with you.]
There was a scene where we learn that there is no cell phone signal in a large Berlin tunnel. I thought this meant that the bomb could not, then, be triggered. Our discussion of this plot point did give some credibility to the thought that removing Liam Neeson’s body weight from the driver’s side of the Mercedes would cause the vehicle to explode because of the “pressure plate” mentioned early on.
I smiled when the Black investigator, played by Noma Dumazweme, told the hassled businessman that the police had interrupted the cell service. She tells him that it is the first time that cell phone service was interrupted to Berlin since 1945. The only problem with that factoid is that there were no cell phones at all in the 1940s, 1950s, 1960s, or the 1970s. It is true that the cell phone was invented in 1973, but it was not readily available to the public until 1983. Liam’s tearing out of the signal-less underground highway tunnel with bezillion Polizei arrayed in front of him, while telling the policewoman that HE would find the culprit if they (the police) could not (and shouting “Tell your men to stand down” which she had no time at all to do) was batshit crazy.
I should mention the presence of Matthew Modine as Liam Neeson’s business partner in an investment firm. Initially, I felt this fine actor (“Full Metal Jacket” 1987) was being totally under-utilized, as he appeared only in cell phone conversations sent to Neeson’s car that were business-related. As the plot progressed, his role increased. I was happy to see that he got more screentime. (I also noticed that Matthew Modinne’s teeth are far better than Liam Neeson’s).
Here was another random formulaic line, as scripted by Alberto Marina and Christopher Salmanpour: “This was all inevitable.” Really?
Nothing that happened seemed “inevitable.” The chase scenes where Liam successfully navigates literally multitudes of police cars that are arrayed to stop him were implausible in the extreme. There have been movies with good car chase scenes (“Bullitt,” “To Live and Die in L.A.,” “The French Connection”) but this was not one of them.
This movie was directed by Nimrod Antal, who was previously involved in directing “Machete” and “Predators.” At some point, he must have known that even audiences that have been suspending belief to watch Liam Neeson go to great lengths to defend or rescue his family members for years in mediocre movies were going to find Neeson’s driving through road blocks that must have been designed by a mentally deficient police sergeant would not play successfully in Peoria (or anywhere else). It will, however, soon be streaming on a streaming service near you. Possibly right now on YouTube.
I actually enjoyed the “twist” at the end, for several reasons. The acting was acceptable, even if the script did not hold water. There were some impressive explosions at various points. Many stunt people got work in the streets of Berlin. (My son works for a company headquartered in Berlin, so I enjoyed the tour of the city.)
The thing that gave me pause as I watched what could well be one of Liam Neeson’s last outings as an action hero was the realization that we’ve lost two great ones in this genre this year: Bruce Willis and, potentially, Liam Neeson. I am not encouraged that the new crop of action movie performers is up to snuff, especially since a trailer ran for another “Expendables” film with Sylvester Stallone, Dolph Lundgren, Jason Statham and 50 Cent. (50 Cent, in particular, was nearly impossible to understand.)
|Music for “Retribution” by Harry Gregson-Williams
Cinematography by Flavrio Martinez Labiano.