Taken on the Run: "Run All Night" solid but unexceptional 'Make Liam's Day' vehicle

Run All Night (2015)
114 min., rated R.

Almost year in and year out for seven years, there's the annual, even biannual, "Make Liam's Day" vehicle. By now, the theoretical appeal of casting the long-in-the-tooth Liam Neeson as an over-50 badass either seems like shooting fish in a barrel or quite tired. Having manipulated logic to engineer two well-made, entertaining thrillers with 2011's "Unknown" and 2014's "Non-Stop," where Neeson played an amnesiac assassin and an air marshal on a targeted airplane, respectively, director Jaume Collet-Serra makes his triad complete with "Run All Night," a gritty, brooding thriller about fathers and sons, cops and criminals. Slacklessly paced even at 114 minutes, the film amounts to an urban western and chase picture set over a 16-hour period around Christmastime, one that has been seen before but doesn't lose one's attention. When all is said and done, "Run All Night" is efficiently made and certainly watchable but still comes out as an also-ran. 

Jimmy Conlon (Liam Neeson) is a weary retired hitman for longtime friend and New York-Irish mob boss Shawn Maguire (Ed Harris), who has had all of New York City in his pocket for 35 years, including part of the NYPD. Once known as "Jimmy the Grave Digger," he has killed up to 17 people over the years, so he numbs his regretful past with alcohol. He's on hard times and could use a loan from Shawn's hustler son, Danny (Boyd Holbrook), while being estranged from his own son, Michael (Joel Kinnaman), with a wife (Genesis Rodriguez) and two young daughters who have yet to meet her father-in-law and their grandfather. When Michael, working as a limo driver, witnesses the murders of a couple of Albanian clients by Danny, Jimmy goes to protect his adult child. Danny breaks in to keep Michael's mouth shut for good, but Jimmy ends up shooting Danny dead. Though Michael calls the police, Jimmy knows very well that they can't be trusted. Shawn promises to point everything to Michael, sending out every thug he has on his payroll until he is dead and then going after Jimmy.

As written by Brad Ingelsby (2013's "Out of the Furnace"), "Run All Night" hits on very familiar, weighty themes of revenge and redemption for one's sins, which is almost too soon after the last Neeson starrer (2014's "A Walk Among the Tombstones"). Jimmy being worthy enough to be redeemed is crucial for the entire film to work, and because of Neeson's sturdy presence, it mostly does. Jimmy should be behind bars for everything he has done in his life, particularly in Detective Harding's (Vincent D'Onofrio) eyes. Once he and his son are wanted men on the run, Jimmy is the reason for so much destruction of property and has no problem shooting crooked authority figures point-blank. It's later revealed that Jimmy once murdered someone in his family just to do Shawn Maguire's bidding. Positioned as one of the protagonists, Jimmy constantly straddles the line between scummy and root-worthy, already knowing where he stands with Shawn but willing to sacrifice himself to protect his own blood.

Liam Neeson has obviously found his niche, which is why he seems to have repeated himself one too many times, but he's very good at what he does and brings gravitas. Grizzled and grumbling, check. Chain-smoking, check. Boozy, check. Damaged and haunted by regrets, check. Here, as Jimmy Conlon, he is completely in his comfort zone but dedicated nonetheless. At least he doesn't come across like too much of an invincible superhero this time around as in the latter two "Taken" movies. As Jimmy's son Michael, Joel Kinnaman is better here than he ever had the chance to be in carrying 2014's okay "RoboCop" remake. Genesis Rodriguez is given nothing of real substance to do as Michael's concerned pregnant wife Gabrielle, who makes a photo collage to welcome their third child into the world and is forced to protect their two girls with her brother. Ed Harris is appropriately oily and intense as lead antagonist Shawn Maguire, and since he has a history with Jimmy, that gives this bad guy a little more shading. He and Neeson have a tense conversation at a two-top in a restaurant, and one can't help but be reminded of the iconic Al Pacino-Robert De Niro scene in "Heat." Finally, rapper-turned-actor Common is effectively cold and despicable as professional killer Mr. Price with a hair lip.

As these things go, "Run All Night" is solid but unexceptional. The first half pulls the viewer in, setting everything up with economy, even if it relies on a coincidence for the premise to get going. Director Jaume Collet-Serra stages an early chase sequence through a series of fenced-in backyards in Queens quite well. The editing of the action is usually choppy, but there is also crowd-pleasing fun in watching Jimmy's chase with a police cruiser and an altercation in the bathroom stall of a subway station. Throughout the film, though, Collet-Serra employs one stylized techniquea fast, digital zoom effect to show the geography between charactersone too many times that it becomes a laughable cinematic version of Google Maps' Street View. Quickly becoming a very standard, even indistinct actioner, the film even ends in the woods for a climactic shoot-out to close out Jimmy's redemption arc. There is at least a dramatic catharsis for Jimmy and Michael reconciling their relationship that earns it, however, "Run All Night" cannot conquer the heavy feeling of déjà vu hanging over the story and characters. The gimmick of seeing Neeson as a late-blooming action star has been fun and reliable, but he might need a repose once the bloom is off the rose.

Grade: C +