Liam Neeson plays a vengeful snowplow driver named “Nels Coxman” in Cold Pursuit, which is already a hell of a logline. A premise like that writes itself, or so you’d think, envisioning a more phallocentric Taken with improvised snow weaponry, bad guys being stuffed into snow blowers or drowned in ice holes and so forth. “Nels Coxman will fill your crevasse… with DEATH.”
Part of me did want to see a hyper-violent version of the Mr. Plow episode of the Simpsons, complete with awkward geriatric love scenes, but, credit for defying expectations, Cold Pursuit is not that. It’s more like if you took Liam Neeson’s character from Taken (which he has played in virtually every movie since Taken) and stuck him in a European sitcom version of Pulp Fiction where all the humor has been lost in translation. Now it’s just strange characters doing strange things with the vague sense of familiarity; a surreal experience.
Norway’s Hans Petter Moland directs, in a remake of his own 2014 film, Kraftidioten (English title: In Order Of Disappearance), which starred Stellan Skarsgard as “Nils Dickman.” Nils Dickman… Nells Coxman… let’s call the whole thing off. The joke is self-explanatory, and the entire concept of a “plow man” is already sexually euphemistic, but that doesn’t stop Moland from explaining it. “Cocksman, you know what that means right?” asks a lazy veteran cop to his plucky rookie partner as Coxman walks by. “It means a man who is gifted at fornication.”
Say what you will about porn being low brow and hopelessly unpoetic, at least the plot of All That Jizz never ground to a halt while someone explained the entendre of “Peter North.” But See what I did there? is Cold Pursuit’s operating philosophy, half-jokes, fully explained.
We meet Coxman after a hard day clearing roads in the fictional ski town of Kehoe, Colorado. His wife, played by the inexplicably A-list Laura Dern, fastens the cufflinks on the French cuffs of Coxman’s shirt, uncharacteristically fancy for a blue-collar old salt like Mr. Fornicator. He’s dressing up because he’s off to receive Kehoe’s “Citizen of the Year Award,” which, sure, I guess people love the plow guy. At the podium, he gives a speech about how he chose the boring life and it’s suited him just fine. No one is that content in life unless their family is about to get murdered, and the unlucky relation turns out to be Coxman’s son, who turns up dead of a heroin overdose. Coxman is adamant that “he wasn’t a druggy.”
So far the film is exactly what you would expect. Our first inkling that it’s something more comes when Mr. and Mrs. Coxman go to identify their son’s body. With their son sitting on the bottom-most morgue shelf, the coroner’s bumbling assistant takes a “comically” long time cranking the slab up to waist level. Is that… oh, I see, it’s a joke. I’m not laughing but I definitely noticed!