The reason I can’t enjoy a movie like Run All Night isn’t that it’s silly or dumb, I appreciate silly and dumb. I can’t get into a movie like Run All Night because it’s an outline movie. Silliness and stupidity without a road map – watching a creator flail and have a manic episode and eventually make out a last will and testament in the form of wild plot twists and deus ex machina and super-intelligent bees, there’s humanity in that. Losing your goddamned mind is the most human thing of all. Watching a movie that some bored functionary Mad Libbed together about “A (blank) (blanks)s Liam Neeson’s (blank) and so Liam Neeson has to (blank) him while single-handedly taking on an entire gang of (blanks)s,” is not only dull, it’s alienating. Any shred of humanity gets ground up in the gears of the sh*tty movie outline machine. If none of the (blanks) are a humorous robot or a stegosaurus, I’m not interested. I’ve seen squibs before, I’m not Amish.
As boring, alienating, and generally meritless as it is, Run All Night does nail virtually every hoary myth of blue collar masculinity. The third in Jaume Collet-Serra‘s trilogy of Taken knockoffs (preceded by Non-Stop and Unknown), this one scripted by Out of the Furnace co-writer Brad Inglesby, Run All Night augments Liam Neeson’s already potent aging white guy appeal with Ed Harris, Vincent D’Onofrio, and Nick Nolte (who’s only in it for about two minutes), along with young gun Joel Kinnaman. If you take out the action scenes, it’s essentially a movie about white men growling at each other.
Look, don’t get me wrong, I like Liam Neeson and Vincent D’Onofrio as much as the next guy, and Ed Harris’s steely blue eyes make me want to apologize for wearing my t-shirts so baggy in middle school. But it’s hard not to notice that Run All Night seems entirely built upon The Myth of the White Man. I don’t mean the white man like Napoleon or Winston Churchill, I mean the mythical, lunchpail-toting paragon of everyday heroism sports talk radio fans compare their favorite (almost always white) athletes to when they say things like “he’s just a hard worker.” “He puts on his hard hat and goes to work!” “He’s got grit!” Etc. The kind of player who can compete with the younger, faster, more naturally athletic (almost always blacker) players simply by remembering his fundamentals and never sass talking, trash talking, or showboating. Pull up your pants! Pistols on each defender! Hands at 10 and two!
Let’s start with the opening. Liam Neeson’s character’s son, played by Joel Kinnaman, a skinny white guy, is sparring at a suitably unflashy boxing gym, trying to give pointers to the young black boy he’s mentoring while the boy films on his cell phone. As Kinnaman pauses to demonstrate how to “keep your elbows tight,” his sparring partner, a big black guy with dreads, sucker punches him. Kinnaman, now sufficiently pissed off, hits the guy with a few straights and liver shots that having him writhing on the canvas. In the locker room, the boy gushes “you knocked him the f*ck out, Mike!” Kinnaman sternly admonishes him “what’d I tell you about talking like that?” and again tries to stress that boxing isn’t about flashy KOs or Vine videos or hippity hop music, it’s about keeping your chin down and your elbows tight and going to work. “Come on, Mike, I was just playing around,” the kid says.
“That’s the problem! You got all the timing in the world, you could be a champion if you just quit playin’ around!”
Remember when Floyd Mayweather sucker punched Victor Ortiz? And then Larry Merchant told him, “I wish I was 50 years younger and I’d kick your ass!” Run All Night‘s entire opening scene feels like Larry Merchant’s fever dream of how the world should work. Larry’s younger, faster, idealized stand-in gets swift vengeance on some sucker-punching, Mayweather-esque punk, while simultaneously preventing a young fighter from becoming a new Mayweather. He doles out encouragement and ass whoopings wherever needed, sprinkled with sage advice and tough love. He may not always be the dad America wants, but he’s the dad America needs!
Run All Night is an underworld story, so naturally it’s set within the Irish mob. Ed Harris plays Sean Maguire, Liam Neeson plays Jimmy Conlon (who has an “Eire” tattoo with a harp on his shoulder), and the fictional characters even reference real-life Westies like Mickey Featherstone. Because nothing gets a townie dipshit’s dick harder than the idea that the Irish mob was tougher, better, and more murderous than those suspiciously ethnic, gloryboy Italians.
Early in the film, Ed Harris’s “Last Mob Guy Standing” character nixes his son’s plan to smuggle heroin through their union contacts with the help of some greezy Albanians.
Ed Harris gives them a classic “I’m just a simple guy, I don’t go in for all this fancy stuff” lecture. “I’m not a drug deala. You wanted to make a bet? Needed a loan to open a butchah shop and the bank wouldn’t touch ya? I was ya guy. By the way, you know what that butcher shop is today? …An Applebee’s.”
Because, again, the only thing Joe Sixpack loves more than telling ethnics to stop showing off is reminiscing about the old neighbahhood. “Tommy’s mom usta give handjobs behind the old deli for five dollahs. Now it’s a friggin cawffee bean. Makes me sick.”
Meanwhile, surprise surprise, as tough and silent an exterior as the characters put on, they’re all secretly hurting and pissed off at their dads. This whole dumb movie is about dads. And not real dads, only the soap opera kind. Ed Harris wasn’t tough lovey enough, so of course he raised a cartoonish, coke-snorting murderer. Liam Neeson was too tough lovey, so his son is an ideal of fatherliness, but hates him. Ugh, every scene is about how Liam Neeson’s son still hates him. God, these blue collar tough guys are more dramatic than goth kids.
Weirdly, Run All Night has no black antagonist for a decent chunk of its running time. The basis for all the Neesoning is that (through a magical coincidence), Neeson’s son witnesses Ed Harris’s son kill some Albanians. To eliminate the witnesses, Harris’s son tries to kill Neeson’s. But Neeson shows up just in time and Neesons him. So then Ed Harris vows vengeance against Neeson and his son, even though Liam Neeson and Ed Harris are each other’s oldest and best friends. Once brothers, now sworn enemies. Fack me, sideways, Tony, this is like Shakespeah!
Someone like Tarantino might’ve been able to write dialogue well enough to make this vengeance scenario interesting, but in Run All Night, Harris and Neeson waffle between expressions of manly love and threats of violence like two drunks watching a Jets game. This all comes to a hilarious crescendo when (spoiler alert, skip the rest of this paragraph if you care) Liam Neeson eventually kills Ed Harris, yet catches up to him so he can comfort him as he’s dying, holding his face and whispering sweet nothings as he breathes his last breaths. It’s basically the gayest murder ever.
Meanwhile, Liam Neeson’s other frenemy is a homicide detective played by Vincent D’Onofrio, who’s never been able to put Neeson away for all his hitman murders. Their relationship has the same adversarial homoerotic quality as Neeson’s and Harris’s, to the point that Neeson eventually steals a get well card from his sick mother’s deathbed to write D’Onofrio a full confession. I suppose he could’ve just used a cocktail napkin, or any other paper product, but that wouldn’t have been so potent with symbolicishness.
The real antagonist turns out to be, surprise surprise, a younger, blacker, more naturally athletic hitman played by Common. He keeps trying to kill the Neesons even after the guy paying him to do so is dead. You know, typical gloryboy stuff. The Albanians just disappear inexplicably, probably on account of being too ethnic. Oddly, Joel Kinnaman’s boxing skill never comes into play either. Because this filmmaker, he doesn’t need fancy junk like motivations and Chekhov’s gun and character arcs. He just puts his head down and goes to work, a real student of the game. Not good, or talented, or interesting, exactly, but… uh… gritty? He has deceptive speed? Got a nice flat head you can set a lunch pail on?
The people who would like this movie probably aren’t smart enough to realize how bad the Euros are trolling us with this crap.
Vince Mancini is a writer and comedian living in San Francisco. You can find more of his work on FilmDrunk, the Uproxx network, the Portland Mercury, the East Bay Express, and all over his mom’s refrigerator. Fan FilmDrunk on Facebook, find the latest movie reviews here.