Liam Neeson keeps his machismo action movie locomotive rolling with "Retribution." As a fan of goofy action movie throwbacks, I appreciate the second-act renaissance Neeson has embarked on. He's endured fist fights with wolves (the supremely underrated "The Grey"), chased killers across planes, trains and 18-wheel automobiles ("Non-Stop," "The Commuter" and "The Ice Road") and even cemented himself in action movie lore with his menacing presence in 2009's "Taken."
Unfortunately for Neeson and action movie fans, the actor's once-fruitful well is starting to dry up. Neeson has endured a remarkable losing streak of late, with "The Marksman," "The Honest Thief," "Blacklight" and "Marlowe" bearing closer resemblance to straight-to-Red-Box filler than the inspired action romps from his 2010s glory days.
"Retribution" marks a welcomed improvement in some facets. Following a family man stuck driving a car armed with a bomb that could detonate at a second's notice, this film displays more reverence for the type of B-movie shlock Neeson used to excel in. There is fun to be had in the chaos and calamity that ensues from the film's high-concept premise, especially when the narrative leans into its inherently preposterous undertones.
Director Nimród Antal's presence plays a substantial role in extracting amusement from the film's antics. His fast-and-furious pulse and stylistic verve behind the camera instill a welcomed sense of freneticism into the proceedings. I cannot stress enough how refreshing this is after the previous Neeson vehicles adopted the visual profile one would expect from an anemic student film.
Still, "Retribution" represents a far cry from Neeson's illustrious, action-hero glory days. Where the actor continues to go astray is his de-emphasis of worthwhile material. Previous works from his ilk showcased admittedly far-fetched concepts transformed through clever narrative twists or surprisingly affectionate emotional undertones.
Here, everything here feels remarkably unremarkable. "Retribution" seems comfortable swimming in tepid waters, hitting the basic action movie notes one would expect with little fanfare. Even Neeson seems bored to tears by the film he is staring in. His once-pronounced gravitas and transfixing command of the screen feel long gone in "Retribution." The actor's half-hearted performance emanates the lackadaisical energy of a performer who is merely there to clock in for another tedious work shift.
As far as Liam Neeson's action films go, "Retribution" exists in a murky middle ground. Its fate will likely be serving as a forgettable cog in those generic action movie collections buried in your local bargain bin.