In a previous review for The Marksman, I made note of Liam Neeson carving out a niche for himself as a world-weary action hero with a special set of skills. You could pretty much copy and paste that into this review of Blacklight, which also feels like a hackneyed copy and paste job.
Neeson reteams with director Mark Williams, who previously helmed Honest Thief and served as a producer on The Marksman. Here, Williams rewrote the screenplay by first-time writer Nick May though previous litigation disputes
Blacklight sees Neeson play Travis Block, a Vietnam veteran with hints of OCD and PTSD. He now works as an off-the-books troubleshooter for his old Army buddy Gabriel Robinson (Aidan Quinn), who has risen to director of the FBI. Block’s specialty is extracting undercover agents who find themselves in too deep or had their identities revealed. Block wants to wind things down and repair his tenuous relationship with his daughter Amanda (Claire van der Bloom). Sadly, Block doesn’t make it easy as his obsessive nature has rubbed off on his grandchild Natalie (Gabriella Sengos), who remains wary of strangers and assesses exit strategies wherever she goes.
Robinson tasks Block with one more mission to bring in rogue agent Dusty Crane (Taylor John Smith) after he was deemed mentally unstable. Turns out, Crane has cracked after discovering Robinson has been running his own secret hit squad to eliminate anyone he deems problematic. Robinson’s latest victim is a rising liberal firebrand named Sofia Flores (Melanie Jarnson), an obvious analogue of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Block reluctantly teams up with tenacious reporter Mira Jones (Emma Raver-Lampman) to expose his old friend and protect his family.
Blacklight survives solely on the gruff gravitas of Liam Neeson, who could pull off these roles in his sleep. The same goes for Neeson’s long-time friend Aidan Quinn as they both bring weight to the one-dimensional material, especially when they’re on screen together. Not a surprise since Neeson and Quinn have previously co-starred in The Mission, Michael Collins, and Unknown. Such a shame that the material couldn’t rise up to the level of the lead actors.
Quinn’s villain is the quintessential old man yelling at clouds. He spouts nothing more than trite rants about political correctness and millenials. Block’s characterization is equally as shallow with the protagonist’s disorders depicted as putting beer cans in specific order. It’s as if the writers only did a scant amount of research into mental health or journalism. The newsroom sequences lack any energy with the feel of any generic workplace. One background character wishes to return to the bliss of ignorance until a sharp retort by Mira quickly changes her mind in the most perfunctory manner. At least, Emma Raver-Lampman (best known for The Umbrella Academy) offers some life to her idealistic journalist.
There are a few action sequences that manage to distract from the film’s poor attempt at aping the classic political thrillers of the 70’s. We get a car chase featuring a garbage truck through the streets of Canberra, Australia doubling as Washington DC, along with a few Jason Bourne-style fist fights. The climax sees Block rigging his immaculate house with Home Alone traps to take out several armed men.
The video is presented in 1080p with an aspect ratio of 2.39:1. The picture quality isn’t mind blowing, but it’s exactly what you want for a movie such as this. The transfer is clean with sharp details.
The audio is presented in DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1. Dialogue is crisp and clear. Sound sometimes comes to life during the action scenes, but not as robust as you’d expect.
Blacklight: Behind the Scenes (2:47) is a quick behind-the-scenes featurette with the cast running down their characters and what it’s like to work with Liam Neeson.
Shooting Blacklight (2:37) is an interesting, but all too brief, look at creating the car chase sequence and filming during the on-going pandemic. The production utilized a combination of location shooting and the volume, which was made famous by The Mandalorian.
Film Value: 4
Crazy conspiracy theories play differently after the events of Jan. 6. Despite a touchy subject, Blacklight isn’t particularly provocative, exciting or original. Liam Neeson barely keeps things afloat.