Oh No! Someone is Threatening Liam Neeson’s Family… Again!
DIRECTED BY MARK WILLIAMS / 2022
Stop me if you’ve heard this one: Liam Neeson plays a man with a particular set of skills, skills he has acquired over a very long career. Skills he must now use to protect his family from the bad guys. Blacklight may be a new action film from director Mark Williams, but it traffics in some very old ideas.
Neeson plays Travis Block, a man who’s job is… well, I don’t know what you’d call it. He’s a special contractor with the FBI, tasked with extracting deep cover agents from the field. I’d think that the FBI would have their own staff to handle that, but that’s the gig economy for you. Anyway, one of Block’s extractees has gone rogue and wants to spill a bunch of state secrets to a reporter. Block wants to bring the guy in peacefully, but the bad guys want to keep him quiet — permanently., Block finds himself caught in the middle and when his family gets threatened, it becomes clear which side he will find himself fighting for.
Block’s given an issue with OCD, which comes across in the film as a series of quirks, but that Block’s daughter treats as the worst thing in the world. It doesn’t impact his job, nor cause him any problems when the villain’s goons come after him. It just provides a little familial tension and a couple of extra quirks that makes you think you have an interesting character.
That aside, Neeson’s fine in this. He’s been playing this sort of role semi-annually since 2008’s Taken, and he could do it in his sleep. To his credit, he doesn’t. Maybe it’s just the nature of his gravelly voice and Irish drawl, but he’s still capable of projecting warmth, gravitas, and menace as the scene calls for it. He’s not bored with this sort of role yet, even if we might be.
It’s just too bad the rest of the movie around Neeson doesn’t try as hard. For an action thriller, there’s very little action, and no thrills. What action there is (a couple of car chases, a fist fight, a couple of shootouts) is pretty perfunctory. I don’t think it’ll be a controversial statement to say that an action movie lives and dies by its action sequences (watch, someone will fight me on this one), and Blacklight‘s sequences aren’t memorable. Cars drive really fast. Occasionally one will crash. People shoot at one another. Yawn.
Perhaps the film’s most fatal flaw is in its villain. An interesting bad guy with a sinister plan can make up for a number of problems a movie might have otherwise. But the villains in Blacklight are as bland as they come. What do they do? Why, they do… some bad things. Why do they do it? Well… for reasons. It’s all half-baked, low effort, and nothing we haven’t seen in dozens of other films.
At one point in the movie, someone explains how the title Blacklight relates to what is actually happening. Something about how things are hidden is revealed when a special light shines on it or somesuch. Maybe we can use it to check under the sofas for a reason to care about anything that happens in Blacklight.