(Video on Demand, June 2015) Are we ever going to get enough of Liam Neeson as an action hero? Maybe not just yet, especially when he can elevate straight-up genre material with a good performance. In Run All Night, he plays a little bit more downtrodden than usual as a Mob enforcer far past his prime, reduced to playing Santa Claus for his boss’ family in order to pay his heating repair bills. He is being kept around out of loyalty by the Big Boss (Ed Harris), but when things heat up and his estranged son kills the Boss’ son, the usual rules don’t apply and what follows is a night-long chase through New York, as organized crime, hired assassins and the police all try to find our heroes. It gets a bit complex at times, but the point is seeing Liam Neeson’s character regain his dignity and (once again) save his family from harm. Director Jaume Collet-Serra seems a bit more restrained than usual here, although the frantic Google-Earth-inspired scene transitions give a taste of his trademark directorial insanity. There are no crazy plot twists, though, as Run All Night remains a straightforward crime thriller, all the way to a relatively conventional ending. It’s not quite as compelling as other Liamspoilation movies, but there’s undeniable satisfaction in seeing Neeson face off against Harris (even if mostly by phone) in a grim dark thriller with some thematic depth. It probably could have been a bit better – Joel Kinnaman is a charisma void in one of the film’s major roles and the script could have used a bit of tightening up. Neeson can do better, Collet-Serra can do better, we viewers can do better. But as far as such crime thrillers go, it’s a solid middle-of-the-road effort.
(On Cable TV, February 2015) I haven’t seen the original 1987 Robocop in at least two decades and wasn’t a big fan even then (I’ve never been fond of grotesque ultra-violence), so this remake doesn’t offend me on any level other than a basic exasperation at Hollywood’s insistence in pilfering existing concepts rather than try to come up with something new. It turns out that while this remake doesn’t quite make a case for existing, it does tackle a few ambitious themes, is competently directed and doesn’t feel like an outrage. The basic premise remains the same, as a severely-wounded policeman is remade as a cyborg and has to face dangerous criminals at a time where corruption is institutionalized. This Robocop clearly exists in an environment where dubious moral judgements are made by corporate executives, where automated force projection is seen as desirable and where the lines between man and machine is becoming blurred on its own. As a result, the film touches upon issues of political manipulation and free will that weren’t strictly necessary for an action film of this kind. (It also features a hair-raising scene of pure body horror that goes beyond the limits of its PG-13 rating) Left untouched is the idea that police work isn’t necessarily all about well-informed deadly firepower, but I suppose that something has to be left for the inevitable sequel. Joel Kinnaman isn’t much of a presence in the titular role, but Michael Keaton is interesting as an affably evil CEO, while Gary Oldman offers a bit of humanity as a low-key scientist trying to balance curiosity with ethics. Jay Baruchel and Samuel L. Jackson also have smaller roles that capitalize on their core persona while stretching them a little bit. Still, the star here should be director Jose Padilha, suffering under Hollywood constraints to deliver a dynamic direction while touching upon quite a bit of thematic content. If the film has a flaw, it’s that the villains are a bit dull, and the ending somehow fails to cohere and bring everything together: it feels more like a few things thrown together for the sake of resolution and a bit of robot-on-robot combat. All told, though, it’s a serviceable remake, a bit better than it most likely could have been in other hands. Make no mistake, though: People are still going to remember the original far more readily than this remake.