Blacklight Synopsis: Travis Block (Liam Neeson), a shadowy government agent who specializes in removing operatives whose covers have been exposed, uncovers a deadly conspiracy within his own ranks that reaches the highest echelons of power.
With the new year underway, it’s no surprise that the Liam Neeson action movie locomotive continues to press forward. Everyone by now knows about Neeson’s transition from sturdy character actor to relentless action star, with Neeson balancing an eclectic blend of straightfaced thrillers (The Grey and Run All Night) and campy action romps (The Commuter and Non-Stop) across the last 13 years.
Despite the roaring success, the star’s action movie empire is starting to run out of gas. Forgettable Redbox fodder like The Marksman and Honest Thief represented an unfortunate turn away from the high-concept projects that morphed Neeson into an action movie fixture in the first place. Heck, even Neeson himself is starting to hint at his retirement from these familiar everyman roles. Before that happens, Neeson is back on the big screen with the political conspiracy thriller Blacklight.
Repurposing a narrative centered around political malpractice into the action movie mold is a promising enough concept for writer/director Mark Williams (who co-wrote the screenplay with Nick May). Unfortunately for Neeson (and the audience), Blacklight represents another run-of-the-mill actioner stuck in autopilot.
Williams, who also crafted the pleasant yet banal Honest Thief, continues to struggle in his transition to the big screen (he’s most known as the creator of the smash streaming success Ozark). His direction discerns no distinctive traits, often relying upon cheap stylistic gimmicks and flat shot selections in a desperate attempt to conjure some momentum. Unless you consider gunshot flashes or cheaply-produced quick edits exciting, Blacklight will likely put most action fans to sleep with its played-out setpieces. The car chases are uneventful in their simplistic design, while Neeson’s hand-to-hand fights suffer from constantly hiding the obvious stunt double in his place.
Blacklight’s political intrigue feels equally weightless. While Honest Thief’s robber-with-a-heart-of-gold B-plot presented some charm in its low-key approach, Willaims seems way over his head in trying to convey the revolving intrigue of political corruption. Blacklight never meaningfully engages with its central conceits, utilizing its zeitgeist ideas as a vapid platform for thrills without much care. There are a few intriguing wrinkles throughout – like Travis’ OCD mannerisms representing an over dedication to his craft and a journalist trying to maneuver the industry’s crooked undertones- yet Williams either doesn’t know or doesn’t care to incorporate actual complexion into these plot threads.
Everything combines to make a remarkably middling endeavor. Williams lays out a predictable web of twists and turns that constantly lags one step behind the audience. Fittingly enough, Neeson’s onscreen presence seems just as unenthused as the viewers stuck watching the film. The star isn’t necessarily bad in his everyman role, but it’s the type of stern macho-man we’ve seen Neeson run his course playing.
Blacklight represents another disappointing step down in quality and creativity for Neeson’s action star tenure. Even as a diehard fan of disposable actioners, I think it may be time for Neeson to call it a career as a man with a “particular set of skills.”