Neeson, Harris Sleepwalk Through "Run All Night"

“Run All Night” is arguably the seventh entry in the “Liam Neeson kills people” subgenre (the actor’s very particular skill set has also been showcased in non-revenge actioners like “The A-Team” and “The Grey”). It’s a formula that’s been refined for over half a decade – one that audiences have embraced through good and bad – and action directors should know by now how to best use the increasingly grizzled star.

The film also features arguably the finest supporting cast Neeson has been afforded during this run. Between screen stalwart Ed Harris (“The Truman Show”), rising star Joel Kinnaman (AMC’s “The Killing”), consummate character actor Vincent D’Onofrio (“Men In Black”), and even an arbitrary Nick Nolte (“48 Hrs.”) sighting, “Run All Night” has every reason to work.

It doesn’t work.

Chalk it up to lazy screenwriting (yup!), confused direction (indeed), or a troubling denouement that attempts to make us feel warm and fuzzy about a lifelong contract killer, it all makes for a slushy, overcast pool of clichés. Have they been done worse? Yes, but with a cast of this pedigree, anything less than electric is unacceptable. And “Run All Night” shorts out almost immediately.

The set-up is simple. Hitman Jimmy Conlon (Neeson) guns down the son of his best friend and mobster Shawn Maguire (Harris) to save the life of his own estranged son, Mike (Kinnaman). Mike is a nice guy, family man, and limo driver who wants nothing to do with his father. When he accidentally witnesses a murder committed by the younger Maguire, Mike becomes a target – only saved by his father’s notoriously itchy trigger finger.

Other than its reliance on pure coincidence, it’s not a bad set-up. But the film takes the better part of an hour to do what its trailer does in 30 seconds, quickly devolving into labored plotting and dull, unnecessary character development.

The movie clearly thinks itself a character drama with splashes of action, but it’s no good at either. Director Jaume Collet-Serra’s second film with Neeson proves more successful than their first go-round (2014’s “Non-Stop”), but just barely, this time spreading out the silliness rather than going full-blown stupid all at once. Collet-Serra has a neat bag of visual tricks up his sleeve, but to what end? His wild birds-eye zooms and pans evoke the late Tony Scott (“Top Gun”) at his worst, adding nothing to an already loose leaf-thin plot.

Worst of all, the script doesn’t do anything interesting with its rash of post-consumer waste – pick a cliché and it’s probably in the movie – content to roll around in its own darkness, as dour as a Nine Inch Nails song but not one-tenth as self-aware.

Throwaway thrillers have their place, but not a single note of “Run All Night” hasn’t been played before and played better – by lesser performers, no less. It’s two hours of Neeson’s raspy voice backed by a concerto of silly character decisions – most of the characters are reliably trigger-happy, until the moment the screenplay requires them not to be – and for all its bombast, it never rises above a thematic whisper.

Rapper Common’s appearance as the pic’s bad hitman – again, the movie wants us to think there are hitmen who aren’t so bad – is the film in a nutshell. Lazy, misguided, predicated on convenience, and utterly pointless.

-J. Olson

Rating: ★★ out of ★★★★★ (Not So Good)

Release Date: March 13, 2015
Studio: Warner Bros. Pictures
Director: Jaume Collet-Serra
Screenwriter: Brad Ingelsby
Starring: Liam Neeson, Ed Harris, Joel Kinnaman, Vincent D’Onofrio, Genesis Rodriguez, Boyd Holbrook, Common, Nick Nolte
MPAA Rating: R (for strong violence, language including sexual references, and some drug use)