Review: Liam Neeson can’t keep dull action thriller ‘Run All Night’ on its feet

Beloved serial killer John Taken is back for another heartwarming family adventure!

I'm confused by the continuity on this series, though. I'm pretty sure this takes place after “Taken 2” and “Non-Stop,” but before “Walk Among The Tombstones,” and parallel to “Taken 3” and “Unknown.” In this entry in the long-running hit series, John Taken (Liam Neeson) and his son Mike Taken (Joel Kinnaman) go head-to-head with the Red Skull (Ed Harris) after witnessing Red Skull Jr. (Boyd Holbrook) murdering some Armenian heroin smugglers. Plus Nick Nolte shows up for about five minutes, and I'm not 100% sure he knew he was in a movie.

Here's the thing about Jaume Collet-Serra: he is just weird enough to stand out from the pack of fairly anonymous filmmakers who make studio level B-movies these days. There are a bunch of these guys, many of them graduates of the Luc Besson action factory, and Collet-Serra manages to stand out because he often is drawn to screenplays that aren't just bad, but that are completely insane. I think Collet-Serra is the only person who could have made “Orphan” what it is, because most filmmakers would have tied themselves in knots over the film's various reveals. Not Collet-Serra. He stages even the most preposterous scenes with a completely straight face, and the result is often compelling if not completely coherent. I'm not sure I could tell you what “Unknown” was about, but I remember a scene with an explosion that made me cackle for some reason, and while “House Of Wax” isn't very good, the film's finale is unforgettably strange on a visual level.

“Run All Night” is the first time I think Collet-Serra has fumbled it completely. To some degree, his earlier films have all had things that could be enjoyed, but “Run All Night” starts off on the wrong note and never recovers. It is entirely too serious and entirely too thin, and that combination turns what might have worked as a pulpy action romp into this po-faced, overly somber march from one unlikely plot point to another. Collet-Serra seems to love casting Liam Neeson as a guy who is past his prime and drinks too much and loaded down with personal problems, which is one of the reasons I don't feel bad about suggesting that Neeson's just playing the same character in all of these films. Every one of them seems to have that same arc of redemption for Neeson, who could probably do this in his sleep by now. It certainly makes me drowsy by now.

Oh… before I forget… it's official now. I don't get Joel Kinnaman. I've seen 'em all, and even so, I can watch half a film with him in it before I connect the dots and remember I've seen him in anything else. He's not a bad actor. He's fine here as a guy who has resented his criminal absentee father his whole life, and there should be fireworks when he and his dad, Neeson's character, end up having to trust one another to stay alive. But some people simply have that particular magnetic charisma that makes them interesting to watch onscreen, and some people don't. So far, I haven't gotten it from Kinnaman in anything. I hold out hope that it clicks if I'm going to keep seeing him in movies. That's certainly possible. There was a time I would have said, “I don't get Channing Tatum.” Maybe there's a role where Kinnaman will suddenly make perfect sense to me. This isn't it.

Ed Harris does everything he's asked to do, but it's a thankless part. He has these big plot-driven swings as a character, and Harris tries to make it play real, but he can't quite make those swings play. And the way the film anti-climaxes doesn't do Harris any favors, either. The film literally limps to a conclusion, and I'm pretty sure Harris's character dies from boredom, not from the gunshot wounds.

Common is also in this film.

Technically, “Run All Night” feels like a movie that ladles on devices that are supposed to distract you from how thin everything is. There's this expensive transition that Collet-Serra uses over and over, where the camera pulls back from one real location, then races up into the sky, swooping over the city to the next location, then dropping down, pushing in, and picking up with the next scene. It manages to look precisely as fake as it is while also feeling needlessly indulgent. If Collet-Serra had put 1/3 as much energy into making this script interesting as he did into his geographical CGI transitions, maybe “Run All Night” would work. As it is, this is probably his weakest film overall, and all the technical polish in the world can't disguise or improve a story that never finds its feet.

“Run All Night” opens in theaters today.