*. Woof! Do you remember the original run of Sneak Previews in the late 1970s when Spot the Wonder Dog would come bouncing onto the laps of Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel to announce their picks for the Dog of the Week? I wonder where Spot is now? Doggy heaven, I guess. But if I could, I’d call him back to duty for Blacklight.
*. Once again — yes, one more time! — Liam Neeson is back as an aging (or, more properly, elderly) agent, a man with a particular set of skills who finds himself having to protect his family. In this case he’s Travis Block, an FBI agent who works “off-the-books” doing dirty jobs for his boss, Aidan Quinn. Alas, Quinn has an even more off-the-books operation going called Operation Unity. I don’t know what Operation Unity involves aside from killing people. As Quinn says at one point (and this is the level of the script): “Spilling a little blood is absolutely necessary to maintaining law and order.” Yeah, you know the type.
*. Neeson runs afoul of this Deep Dark State operation when a younger agent (Taylor John Smith) threatens to go to the press (represented by intrepid reporter Emmy Raver-Lampman, the film’s sole bright spot) and blow the whistle on these rogue Feds. Neeson finds out what’s going on and Quinn kidnaps his family and then tries to kill him when he won’t play ball.
*. That’s enough of the plot. If you’re hoping for a return to the glory days of ’70s paranoia classics like The Parallax View and Three Days of the Condor, forget it. There is nothing new or suspenseful going on here. What’s worse though is that the action is so poorly done. There are a couple of car chases that are very boring. There’s a gun fight that is very boring. Neeson gets in a fistfight and it’s very boring. Because let’s face it, the guy is 70 years old and he’s just not going to be able to sell this stuff anymore. But I don’t think director Mark Williams has much of a hand shooting action anyway.
*. Many reviewers were quick to point out how closely Neeson’s career now seems to be tracking that of Bruce Willis. It’s not quite that bad yet, since while this feels like one of Willis’s bottom-of-the-barrel efforts from the same period it actually had a budget of over $40 million. Little of which shows up on screen. Or maybe it does if it all went to paying Neeson.
*. Set in Washington D.C. but filmed in Australia (Melbourne and Canberra). This may explain why the streets and the museum are so deserted. Seriously, I’d like to know when a museum has that few people in it because that’s when I’d like to visit.
*. Film authority and general bon vivant Eddie Harrison: “Blacklight isn’t his [Neeson’s} best or his worst, but will do to be doing on with.” That’s faint praise, but I think it still goes too far. As far as I can tell, Backlight really is Neeson’s worst movie, at least recently. Casting an eye over the ones I’ve made notes on, I would rate it as worse, and markedly worse, than Taken, Taken 2, Taken 3, Non-Stop, The Commuter, Cold Pursuit, The Marksman, and The Ice Road. In brief, this movie is junk, and unless Neeson really does need the money he’d better pull out of this career arc before things get any worse. Because they always can.