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Run All Night

Does anyone else remember 2008? Sweet mother of mercy, did that year suck. Not only was it the year of an extremely bitter and ugly presidential election, but it was also the year our economy got shot to hell. Banks everywhere were forced to go out of business because of their own immoral doings, wiping out retirement accounts overnight and raising unemployment on a scale not seen since the Great Depression. Then the banks were at least partially bailed out with taxpayer money, which did not go over very well with the taxpayers themselves.

The point being that we were all feeling hurt and more than a little betrayed by the time that year was over. We were in desperate need for some cinematic junk food to take the edge off, and conveniently, the start of the year happens to be a time notorious for its plethora of cinematic junk food.

There were two particular films released in January of 2009 that might have (and probably should have) slipped through the cracks and fallen into immediate obscurity. But circumstances being what they were, so many audience members flocked to these movies that they both made a ton of money and shaped pop culture in far-reaching ways that continue to affect us today. One of them was Paul Blart: Mall Cop, which had the lamentable effect of turning Kevin James into a bankable A-list star. And God help us all, the film is getting a sequel with a prime April release date this year.

The other one was Taken, which was later turned into a freaking trilogy that wrapped last year. It also led to the creation of UnknownNon-StopA Walk Among the Tombstones, and other films that were either made or marketed as transparent Taken rip-offs in which Liam Neeson plays a grizzled old badass with an axe to grind. (Full disclosure: Of the films in this trend, the only one I’ve seen so far is The Grey.)

Now, after six fucking years of this nonsense, we have Run All Night. In many ways, this feels like the capstone to Liam Neeson’s “21st century Bronson” persona, and for the sake of everyone involved, I hope it really is.

Neeson plays Jimmy Conlon, a former hitman for a mob boss named Shawn Maguire (Ed Harris). We eventually learn that Jimmy’s wife passed away about five years prior, and that’s when all the guilt from his past life hit him hard. He’s spent the past few years haunted by memories of the lives he’s taken, drowning his sorrows in alcohol and cigarette smoke. Things have gotten so bad that Shawn is now the only one who still wants to call him a friend.

Jimmy also has a son (Michael Conlon, played by Joel Kinnaman), but it goes without saying that they’re estranged. Mike works as a limo driver, though he spends his spare time as a pro bono boxing coach. Mike also has a wife (Gabriela, played by Genesis Rodriguez) and two lovely kids, with a third one on the way. Unfortunately, Mike just had to drive the wrong limo for the wrong guy on the worst possible night.

See, Shawn is trying to turn things around and run a respectable business. But his son (Danny Maguire, played by Boyd Holbrook) evidently didn’t get that memo. To make a long story short (too late!), Danny gets into some sketchy business dealings and has to kill someone, unaware that Michael is watching nearby. Even though Michael agrees not to tell anyone what happened, Danny just had to go and try to kill him anyway. Except that Jimmy kills Danny first. And then everything hits the fan.

To get this straight, Shawn is out to kill Jimmy and Michael because they killed his son. Even though Jimmy was the only one to pull the trigger, he did it to save his own son, and Michael has already agreed not to tell the cops anything that would implicate Shawn. What’s more, Danny was an irredeemably criminal asshole without an ounce of brains in his head, and absolutely no one could doubt that he had it coming. Even Shawn himself was looking at an old childhood picture of his son not five minutes earlier, asking where the hell this kid went wrong.

Yet Shawn is so torn up over the death of his idiot son that he’s willing to turn NYC upside down to kill Jimmy and his entire family. This does not compute.

Granted, this premise has more than a few similarities to that of the excellent John Wick, which also featured a mob boss trying to protect his son from a well-deserved execution. There are some crucial differences, however. First, the film was about the titular hero’s chase for the mob boss’ progeny, making his death the payoff instead of the catalyst. Second, and perhaps more importantly, that film didn’t take itself as seriously as this movie does. Honestly, when Ed freaking Harris is pouring out his heart and soul to the camera, heartbroken and angry beyond words for the death of a son who was very clearly a disappointment to him, it invites — nay, demands a greater level of scrutiny toward the character’s motivation.

Michael is problematic as well, mostly because he’s just so annoying. He refuses to shut up about how much he hates his dad, saying whatever contradictory and irrational thing he can to hurt Jimmy. Even more unforgivably, there are so many times when Michael will disobey his father out of spite, even though he knows full well that Jimmy knows what he’s doing and his dad is the only reason he’s not dead already. Except for those times when Michael accepts how badly he needs Jimmy and momentarily forgives him. It tends to come and go as the plot requires.

I really am sorry to say that the plot is a convoluted hack job that screws everyone over. Common works okay as a rival hitman, but he comes entirely out of nowhere and gets only two scenes. Vincent D’Onofrio plays a homicide detective — one of the few who isn’t on the mob’s payroll — and the character is pretty much entirely useless. Genesis Rodriguez makes absolutely no impression, mostly because her character either loves or hates her husband according to the needs of the plot.

All other characters aside, the entire movie hinges on Michael, Danny, and their relationships with their respective fathers. Given that Michael and Danny are both such weak characters, that’s a huge freaking problem. It’s especially bad in Michael’s case, since he spends most of his screen time getting acted off the screen by Neeson. Kinnaman is not skilled enough to hold his own against Neeson in his element, and he sure as hell isn’t good enough to elevate this worthless character.

Though if I tilt my head sideways and squint, I can almost see a greater theme emerging here: Even if Jimmy and Shawn are stuck with disappointing and ungrateful progeny, blood is blood and they still have a paternal obligation. But even if this hook was intentional, it’s still a weak one to hang an action movie on.

The action in this movie is really not very good. Too many of the fight scenes are so dark and so clumsily shot that I could barely see anything. What made it even worse is that the action scenes depended so much on a subway train arriving, a fog bank rolling in, an apartment blowing up, or other such contrived devices appearing at just the right time for no reason. The aforementioned John Wick comparison is another huge problem, since this film’s action shows absolutely none of the energy or creativity of that one. Still, at least the film made an effort to put in some variety, with car chases and cat-and-mouse scenes among the shootouts.

Though I don’t think Michael ever gets a single hand-to-hand combat scene, even though we know he’s a boxing coach. FAIL.

Still, the movie isn’t entirely without merit. The camerawork outside the action scenes is generally pretty good, with some neat long takes and editing tricks here and there. In particular, the establishing shots are often done by way of a camera that swoops throughout the city. I’m not entirely sure why this method was used, but at least it looks different.

All of that said, it’s really Ed Harris and Liam Neeson who keep this film watchable. I mean, come on, these are two such extraordinary actors that they could make just about anything watchable. Still, that doesn’t negate the fact that Harris is forced to work with a relatively weak character, motivated solely by the death of a douchebag whom nobody misses at all. As for Neeson, come on. This is more of the same “grizzled old badass” routine we’ve been seeing for the past six years. Even if you haven’t seen any of the Taken films or its ripoffs, you’ve assuredly seen him growling through so many trailers and commercials ad nauseam. It’s what Neeson does better than anyone, but that doesn’t take away from the fact that it’s been done too many times before.

Run All Night is my least favorite kind of film to review because it’s nowhere near good enough to rave over and it’s not bad enough to hate. I can scarcely summon the energy to even think about this movie, much less write about it. This is a bland, middle-of-the-road movie with nothing to leave any kind of impression. The best parts of this film came from Ed Harris and Liam Neeson, but we’ve seen them done similiar or better work so many times in the past that who could possibly care?

What’s really sad is that this cast is actually very solid throughout. Joel Kinnaman’s the weakest actor here, and even he might have pulled this off if he had anything to work with. This could easily have been a great action movie worth writing home about, but the writing and direction just weren’t there. Not recommended.

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