Released: 10th February
Seen: 14th July
Liam Neeson needs to be stopped, with his latet release Blacklight he has officially worn out his charm as an action star and needs to either take a break or just stop entirely if possible. At one point he was charming as the older lead of an action film, Taken and its immediate sequels were exciting and clever enough that they worked no matter who was in them but the fact it was someone as talented and charismatic as Liam Neeson elevated it. Then he started slipping and just repeating the formula with films like Honest Thief or The Commuter, films that leaned so heavily on Liam’s charm that it was almost inevitable that we’d hit this point. The point where it’s just impossible to give a damn… even if the plot isn’t just another spin on the Taken formula, there’s no more fucks to give.
Blacklight revolves around a grand conspiracy theory that starts when a political activist is killed in a hit and run which seems to have been done by the FBI. At least that’s what we can infer, because former FBI agent Dusty Crane (Taylor John Smith) is trying to contact a reporter, Mira Jones (Emmy Raver-Lampman) to tell her everything about something called Operation Unity which is somehow involved in the murder. It would obviously be bad for the FBI if this happened, so top agent Travis Block (Liam Neeson) is sent to get Dusty and bring him in before he can spill, but of course, Travis has a conscience and ends up siding with Dusty and Mira and tries to help them stop Operation Unity… whatever the hell that is, it’s not exactly clear.
If you want to see a political thriller made by people who are vaguely aware of what a political thriller involves but don’t have the ability to handle the pesky details that might make the genre interesting… still avoid Blacklight because it’s not even good at being that. The incredible dedication to not doing anything remotely smart or interesting is kind of impressive, you have to try to fail at a genre this hard. The idea of a political thriller usually involves a fancy conspiracy that goes way up the chain and has a specific devious purpose, like keeping a corrupt president in charge or winning some election but here? Uh, maybe the head of the FBI just kind of doesn’t like you and then he has you killed. It’s a political thriller but somehow with all actual politics removed, that’s kind of impressive.
But then you might end up going “Well OK but cinema is too political anyway, can we just have the thriller part?” and to that Blacklight laughs because it’s also not that thrilling. For a film that contains several shootouts, a car chase involving a garbage truck and a series of allegedly dramatic murders it’s kind of amazing how there’s not that much that’s actually thrilling. There’s no need to hold your breath because nothing shocking is going to happen, characters you don’t care about are going to be killed and a main bad guy who isn’t even memorable enough to be worth naming is going to just kind of exist because someone needs to take the fall at the end… but off screen cos why have a fun moment where the hero defeats the bad guy on camera?
All of this boredom might work if you cared about anyone but Blacklight has no one worth caring about. You can tell Liam is just phoning it in at this point, the other cast are in it just enough that you technically have to give them a credit but they don’t really have characters worth caring about. The FBI guy who tries to reveal everything, Dusty Crane, is a nothing character who is only memorable because he has unnaturally bright blue eyes. The reporter is there off to the side so that there’s an excuse at some point to have the press tell this story but that’s it, she’s not even in the climax and they have to talk up her involvement as though it happened just off-screen. Nothing and no one in this film matters, dull characters with no real purpose of any kind which makes for an absolutely exhausting watch.
Even the few moments in Blacklight that have the potential to be interesting are ruined by being absolutely stupid, and not in a fun way. For example, the chase scene involving the garbage truck could potentially be interesting… except the person in the garbage truck, Dusty Crane, is meant to be deep undercover and for no reason whatsoever chooses literally the biggest and most unwieldy vehicle possible for a car chase throughout town. It makes for a sequence where you just watch this idiot tearing through sidewalks and barely making turns while trying to escape in a vehicle that could maybe hit a solid 50 on a good day. It’s a sequence designed to excite but in practice it just perplexes because anyone actually trying to hide or get away from someone wouldn’t use a fucking garbage truck. It makes everyone involved look incredibly stupid which, in turn, kills all tension that might’ve potentially existed.
Blacklight is just a bad film, start to finish. It’s another on the long list of films where Liam Neeson has a special set of skills to try and save people with (including family members… I forgot to mention them because they don’t matter) and like a lot of films in that very specific subgenre, it stopped being interesting about a decade ago and it now just kind of annoying. It’s a slog to get through, the stakes are badly explained and there’s nothing interesting to explain why any of this is happening.
It’s such a dull film that it’s almost impressive, even the title is dull and meaningless because the word ‘Blacklight’ never appears in the film, nor does anyone use a blacklight or even do some investigating that might, at some point, require one. Nothing about Blacklight makes sense and nothing about it is worth existing. We’ve hit the limit Liam, for crying out loud just do something else because you’re wearing your charm out and I don’t know if you’re going to get any of it back at this rate!