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Review: Blacklight

February 10, 2022

By John Corrado

★★ (out of 4)

Blacklight is the latest entry into the canon of Liam Neeson action movies, a subgenre of films featuring the Irish actor as a gruff, troubled man called into action to protect himself or his family, and it’s honestly one of his weaker efforts.

This is not to say that Neeson action films, which are mostly as formulaic as they come, are exactly known to be great cinema, but last year’s releases at least ranged from surprisingly suspenseful (The Marksman) to dumb fun (The Ice Road).

By comparison, Blacklight just isn’t very good. It goes through the motions, but much of it feels tired and rote. And compared to some of Neeson’s other efforts (like the self-aware Cold Pursuit), this one also takes itself a bit too seriously to fully work as cheesy entertainment.

The film casts Neeson as Travis Block, a government fixer with a shadowy past who is working under the orders of FBI head Gabriel Robinson (Aidan Quinn, having fun being intimidating) to tie up loose ends for the bureau. The plot involves an AOC-type politician named Sofia Flores (Mel Jarnson) running on a socialist agenda, who gets mowed down in a mysterious hit-and-run. This ropes in Mira Jones (Emmy Raver-Lampman), a young journalist who starts asking questions, and Dusty Crane (Taylor John Smith), a rogue agent who has found his moral code trying to expose the bureau’s corruption.

Directed by Mark Williams (who also directed Neeson in the 2020 film Honest Thief), Blacklight is a by-the-numbers film that delivers exactly what you expect, with the added disadvantage of not doing it very well. The expected clichés are all here. Travis has an adult daughter, Amanda (Claire van der Boom), who worries about what his job is doing to him, and he wants to retire so that he can spend more time with his granddaughter Natalie (Gabriella Sengos), who is picking up on his paranoid traits.

Neeson, whose late career has come to be defined by these sorts of roles as a for-hire action star and has been doing it so long that he has gone from playing vengeful fathers to a vengeful grandpa, does deliver some of his usual snarling line deliveries to please hardcore fans. But the Australian-shot production has a cheap, made-for-TV look to it (likely a byproduct of the pandemic), and the film’s plot holes and flatly written characters grow frustrating, especially considering the potential of some of the themes being explored.

With a story about corruption within the FBI, the pieces were here for something more interesting (Quinn’s character has a speech about J. Edgar Hoover that I enjoyed), but Blacklight gets bogged down by a plot that feels both overly convoluted and underdeveloped. It isn’t entirely unwatchable as a pulpy conspiracy thriller, and there are some okay car chases and physical fights sprinkled throughout. But it’s mostly a disappointing effort that can’t even really live up to the modest expectations of a Liam Neeson action movie, which isn’t saying anything good.

Blacklight opens in theatres on February 11th. It’s being distributed in Canada by VVS Films.

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