Blacklight (China/Australia/USA, 2022)

February 09, 2022
A movie review by James Berardinelli
Blacklight Poster

It’s February. That means it’s time for cold weather and snow, groundhogs having their day, and Liam Neeson coming out with yet another kick-ass action/thriller. (Do not confuse the term “kick-ass” with “good” or even “watchable.”) Back in 2008, Neeson, then primarily known as a “serious” actor who occasionally made forays into popcorn territory (The Phantom Menace, Batman Begins), decided to broaden his repertoire by playing the hero in Luc Besson and Pierre Morel’s Taken. 14 years later, Neeson has opened no fewer than a dozen of these movies (in which he typically plays carbon copies of the same character with different names) – all but a few in the January/February time period. It has gotten to the point where February seems incomplete with one of these Neeson paydays. But, my God, have they started to stink.

To start things off by damning with faint praise, Blacklight is better than Neeson’s last effort, The Ice Road (which had at one point been intended for a February 2021 release until it went the streaming route and was pushed into June). And it’s certainly no worse than either The Marksman or Honest Thief. (Sad to say, those are the last four movies for which Neeson’s name has topped the marquee. He must be concerned about fattening up his bank account.) This subgenre, which offered a few guilty pleasures in the beginning, has degenerated beyond the point of reclamation. And Neeson has given up the pretense of acting. His performance in Blacklight (no idea why it’s called that) is on par with that of Steven Seagal in his prime. Come to think of it, they’re playing pretty much the same characters.

Blacklight begins with a leftist speech given by Sofia Flores (Mel Jarnson), a rather transparent representation of Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez. She is cheered on by her boyfriend, Dusty Crane (Taylor John Smith). Not long after, she is run down in the street in a hit that’s made to look like a hit-and-run. Dusty is guilt-ridden, blaming himself for her death. He’s actually an undercover FBI agent who was working on a “dark ops” project for FBI Director Gabriel Robinson (Aidan Quinn). When he goes rogue and threatens to spill everything to the police, Robinson calls on his secret weapon, Travis Block (Neeson). Block works for Robinson bringing in agents from sticky predicaments or who have lost their way by going too deep in their undercover roles. In this case, however, he can’t get to Dusty before Dusty talks to a reporter, Mira Jones (Emmy Raver-Lampman). What Block learns as he digs deeper into the situation makes him question the ethics of Robinson’s methods and the legitimacy of his own part. So, of course, the bad guys start chasing him and, when they threaten his wife, Amanda (Claire van der Boom), and daughter, Natalie (Gabriella Sengos) (perhaps even going so far as to kidnap them), he starts shooting.

Blacklight is one of those cheap-looking movies where the action sequences are perfunctory and devoid of any sense of suspense or tension. The storyline is by-the-numbers and one would have to be a moron not to figure out who the Big Bad Guy is from the beginning. (Actually, I’m not sure it’s supposed to be a surprise.) The story plods along and the resolution is confusing, unsatisfying, and profoundly idiotic. Much of what happens during the final 20 minutes makes no sense whatsoever (the kidnapping is a red herring) – it’s as if director Mark Williams (whose previous effort behind-the-camera was Honest Thief, one of those other Neeson-as-a-tough-guy movies) and writer Nick May realized they didn’t have an ending and cobbled together something on the spot.

Every time Neeson makes one of these worse-than-generic thrillers, publicists roll out the Taken comparisons. It’s not that Taken was a great film but it was popular and is generally fondly remembered. But these movies have become so stale and tasteless that with each new one, Taken starts to look better and better. In terms of storytelling, excitement, and overall entertainment value, Blacklight is a black hole.

Blacklight (China/Australia/USA, 2022)

Director: Mark Williams
Cast: Liam Neeson, Aidan Quinn, Taylor John Smith, Emmy Raver-Lampman, Claire van der Boom, Gabriella Sengos
Home Release Date: 2022-05-03
Screenplay: Nick May
Cinematography: Shelly Johnson
Music: Mark Isham
U.S. Distributor: Briarcliff Entertainment/Open Road Films
Run Time: 1:48
U.S. Release Date: 2022-02-11
MPAA Rating: "PG-13" (Violence, Profanity)
Genre: Action/Thriller
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1