In his newest film, “Retribution” — a remake of a 2015 Spanish film of the same name — Neeson plays Matt Turner, an American investment banker in Berlin. While chauffeuring his teenage son and daughter to school one day, Matt learns he is sitting on a bomb that will detonate if he stops the car, tries to get out or otherwise fails to obey the instructions of a mysterious stranger at the other end of his cellphone. These instructions include driving from one point to another, where Matt witnesses — and then is gradually implicated in — a string of car bombings that kill several of his co-workers. Noma Dumezweni plays the appealingly dogged, no-nonsense Europol detective who is hot on his trail.
So far, so familiar, at least in the broadest contours of a story about a man under … let’s just call it duress. (Matt’s wife is also considering divorcing him because he’s emotionally unavailable, and there are hints of possible financial chicanery.) Unlike many of Neeson’s characters, Matt doesn’t possess “a very particular set of skills” here, as the actor’s character in “Taken,” Bryan Mills, so euphemistically described his own lethality. Matt has a driver’s license and his wits. And maybe that’s enough.
This is the third collaboration between Neeson and producers Andrew Rona and Alex Heineman (they worked on “Non-Stop” in 2014 and “The Commuter” in 2018). Jaume Collet-Serra, who directed Neeson in those two films (as well as “Unknown” and “Run All Night”), here moves into the producer’s chair. Although there’s a certain cozy comfort to watching Neeson and his regular collaborators do their thing for the umpteenth time, a thing the actor has now been doing for 15 years, the whole operation feels more like a well-oiled machine — a cold commodity — than a warm blanket, or even a living thing.
As Heineman put it in the film’s press material, “Over our time with Liam, we’ve got to crash a plane and derail a train. In ‘Retribution,’ we are blowing cars up all over Berlin.”
There is a twist ending, and it’s not a bad one, assuming you haven’t seen the original Spanish film. And there’s a certain satisfaction in watching almost all the action transpire from the front seat of a claustrophobic car. In the back seat, playing Matt’s distraught children, who are also trapped in their seats, Jack Champion and Lilly Aspell contribute to the mounting tension. Director Nimród Antal (“Predators”) does a serviceable job of keeping everything interesting and suspenseful, if not exactly fresh.
Look, Tom Cruise keeps cranking out Mission: Impossible films, too. And he has said that, in light of the latest Indiana Jones movie starring an 80-year-old Harrison Ford, he hopes to continue making them until he is Ford’s age.
But at least Cruise ups the ante every time, each new movie outdoing the previous one with bigger and better stunts and badder villains. With every Liam Neeson action film, the ante is exactly the same. The cards and the cast of players may be different, but the stakes, given the way the game has been played over and over again in the past, are low.
R. At area theaters. Contains violence and some strong language. 90 minutes.
POST AUTHOR: Michael O’Sullivan