I’m deeply puzzled by why Liam Neeson continues to show up in second rate action film. Now, to be fair, I enjoy him as an actor, generally. I even enjoyed Taken, as well as kind of loving Cold Pursuit. At the same time, the last decade or so of Neeson’s career has been dominated by the type of mediocre action movie you’d hope he’d be above. Blacklight is, sadly, more of the same for him. He appears bored, while the production doesn’t have much originality to set itself apart. It’s all competently done, but without a whiff of passion or creativity. Rather quickly, it sinks under the weight of its own indifference.
Blacklight is made to be passively consumed. It’s the sort of thing you half watch on television. That’s all well and good, but this is meant to be a theatrical release, so it’s wholly unacceptable. Especially when there’s such a litany of Neeson action outings to choose from, you really need to go above and beyond to stand out. This film, without question, does not do that. Instead, it settles for the bare minimum.
Travis Block (Neeson) is a government operative, one who knows how to get agents out of hairy situations. He’s made a career out of it, while his close friend Gabriel Robinson (Aidan Quinn) has become FBI director. Black is wrestling with his murky past, one that has estranged him with his daughter and put at risk a relationship with his beloved granddaughter. Of course, just as he’s planning to get out, something pulls him back in.
When he discovers a plot targeting U.S. citizens, one being whistle-blown by a young agent in Dusty Crane (Taylor John Smith), Block is torn between loyalty to his protege and to his country. While Dusty seeks out a journalist (Emmy Raver-Lampman) to help get the word out, Block investigates. What he finds puts himself in the crosshairs of the FBI director he once helped protect, and whom he considers perhaps his only friend.
Liam Neeson is so much better than this movie. He’s an expert at this kind of flick by now, so his sleepwalking through the role still has a bit of gravitas, but it’s clear that he’s bored. You buy him as a government fixer type, but never once does the script make his character come alive. He fares the best, however, as the likes of Aidan Quinn, Emmy Raver-Lampman, and Taylor John Smith are completely one note. Quinn at least gets a little scenery chewing, while the others are as bland and forgettable as they come. Supporting players include Claire van der Boom, Gabriella Sengos, and more.
Co-writer/director Mark Williams makes everything in Blacklight competent, but rarely engaging. Along with co-writers Nick May and Brandon Reavis, the screenplay Williams is working with periodically approaches an interesting point, but backs away immediately. Interestingly, May is a former U.S. Department of Justice attorney during the Obama administration, which makes the lack of personality here even more striking. Williams’ direction is uninspired as well, doubling down on the lack of engagement and style here. It’s as if they landed Neeson and figured their work was done.
Ultimately, Blacklight is the type of watchable mediocrity that you’d find late night on cable and get bored with before the end. There are certainly worse films out there, but without questions, there are superior ones. Even in February, you can do much better. Unless you’re a massive Liam Neeson fan, you need not apply here. Even then, there are better options for Neeson kicking some ass.