2014 Norwegian Thriller Gets Arthritic Remake In "Cold Pursuit"
The son of Kehoe snowplow driver Nels Coxman (Neeson) is found dead of a heroin overdose; scenes of brooding are built in. “Kyle wasn’t a druggie,” Coxman thinks out loud before hard-charging through the truck-high snow that covers his remote plow route. Still, his grief is bigger than the seemingly infinite span of hard powder around him. A suicide attempt is only just abandoned when Nels receives intel concerning his son’s death.
Suddenly the words “Kyle wasn’t a druggie” have credence.
Our lead begins murdering up the chain of command of a drug Denver-based drug cartel, and for a while “Cold Pursuit” works as a hard-boiled revenge thriller with twinges of slapstick. Although miscast, Neeson remains eminently watchable, wringing Nels’ vein-popping rage for all it’s worth. Too bad the movie shrivels whenever it pivots away from Coxman, which it does with more frequency as it chugs along to its inevitable denouement.
At odds with the Stygian vibe of the movie around him, English actor Tom Bateman plays villain Trevor “Viking” Calcote like he’s in a Mel Brooks-style spoof. Presenting like a young Cary Elwes (no stranger to spoofs himself), Bateman makes a heaping meal out of every scene. His scenery chewing gets to the point that half the movie becomes laughable in all the wrong ways, overshadowing the more subtle bits of comedy in Frank Baldwin’s script (adapted from Kim Fupz Aakeson’s original).
But the problem is bigger than Bateman. Long passages that focus on the ins and outs of a drug war between Calcote and a ring of Native American dealers not only robs us of the simplicity of Liam Neeson killing bad guys; it saps any potential mystery out of the proceedings. We know exactly what’s up from the starting gate. This makes suspense hard to come by, limited to instances of characters choosing between mercy and cruelty. Given the bloodthirstiness of all parties, the outcome is rarely a surprise.
There’s something innately disheartening in a filmmaker having to recreate his own movie for English-speaking territories – dozens of shots here are near-perfect replicas of those in the original – and as such “Cold Pursuit” can’t help but feel like someone going through the motions. Dead-end, discarded subplots (like two gay henchman) are signposts of a movie already made, ostensibly better, and the novelty of dead characters being instantly memorialized via title cards wears off quickly. (The gag undoubtedly made more sense under the original movie’s title.)
Although not a total bust, only Neeson’s disastrous press cycle will keep memory of the pic alive past the end of its theatrical run. In the meantime, audiences would be better served to watch the Skarsgård version. Or, for prime twenty-first century black comedy, Martin McDonagh’s “In Bruges.”
Rating: ★★ out of ★★★★★ (Not So Good)
Release Date: February 8, 2019
Studio: Lionsgate, Summit Entertainment
Director: Hans Petter Moland
Screenwriter: Frank Baldwin
Starring: Liam Neeson, Tom Bateman, Emmy Rossum, Laura Dern, John Doman, William Forsythe, Tom Jackson, Raoul Max Trujillo
MPAA Rating: R (strong violence, drug material, and some language including sexual references)