Blacklight (Review): Sorry, I Blacked Out.
People are already tired of “Liam Neeson kills everyone” action movies …and Blacklight will certainly not change their minds.
He has a particular set of skills. Skills he’s acquired over a very long career. Skills that make him a nightmare for certain types of people. And when shadowy figures endanger not just his life but his family’s, he needs to take up his gun, track down his enemies, and kill them if he has to – wait, no, this is the plot for The Commuter. Let me try that again. He has a particular set of skills. Skills he’s acquired over…
In hindsight, perhaps deciding to review this film was a bad idea. Now, it’s not just because it is a bad movie. In fact, I’d prefer it if it was blatantly terrible. At least then I’d be able to derive some sadistic pleasure from ripping it apart. But Blacklight is the worst kind of bad movie. One that doesn’t even make a spectacular mess you can laugh at, but instead slowly deflates with a steady stream of lukewarm air.
This makes it really hard to say anything new or interesting about the movie. I was actually working on a completely different draft before this, where I picked apart its bland characters, severe lack of tension, shoddy and dimly lit action sequences, and hackneyed plot. But then halfway through, I realized, “this might as well be a review for Taken 3. Or Honest Thief. Or The Marksman. Or The Ice Road. Or Blacklight – wait, that is what I’m reviewing!”
So instead, let’s scrap 90 minutes of writing and look at Liam Neeson. More specifically, his brand of “angry daddy Neeson kills everyone to save his daughter slash granddaughter slash wife slash all three” action movies, or ADNKETSHDSGSWSAT for short. Might have to work on a better acronym.
It’s easy to make fun of Neeson. I mean, I had my fun in the past making fun of his movies. But at the same time, you can’t help but feel a bit sympathetic for the web of typecasting he’s stuck in. Now, an iconic character for an actor is a double edged sword. On one hand, it is a massive boost in popularity. When people see the actor, they will almost always know them because of that particular role. You see people like Daniel Radcliffe or Robert Downey Jr, and everyone will immediately say “Harry Potter” or “Iron Man.” It doesn’t even have to be a particular role. Arnold Schwarzenegger, for instance, was always associated with the muscular action hero with a rather comedic edge.
But that strength is also the problem. It becomes very hard for those actors to break out of those images. Going back to Daniel Radcliffe, if you go on Youtube and search up any movie clips he’s starred in, the comments section will be flooded with Harry Potter jokes. And in other cases, actors start getting typecast based on their iconic images. Look at how Dwayne Johnson always has to be the funny over the top muscle man, when films like Faster show he can genuinely act. And now look at Neeson. He played the part of an angry father out for revenge very well in Taken. After that, so many of the action movies he’s done has been exactly that, just Ctrl-CV-ed onto a slightly different setting.
What’s strange is that, despite all this, Neeson is still genuinely good at that typecast role after all these years. Despite literally every single one of his characters being the same, I could still watch him growl at bad guys and gun them down over and over and still be entertained. He just has a certain mix of tired energy and genuine heart that you can’t help but feel for whatever family he’s fighting for, even if you don’t remember what his family is actually like.
Of course, there’s still the issue that he’s playing the same character over and over to the point that it’s become its own genre. I mean, look at his posters: all of them are some variation of Liam Neeson with a frown on his face and a gun in his hand. But that also means that, as long as the writing or directing are not unbearable, he can produce a plethora of action movies that, while certainly not groundbreaking, are enjoyable on a lonely night when you have a pint of ice cream and nothing else to watch. It’s why I had a genuinely fun time with films like Non-Stop or The Commuter.
But here’s where we must return to Blacklight. I wasn’t asking for much. Before I went in, I was expecting yet another Liam Neeson action movie. There was no way the film would blow me away, but it would keep me engaged at least through the actor. Like I said, despite the problems with typecasting, Neeson has proven his skill to somehow keep me watching him again and again. All the film had to do then, was to supplement that with basic competency in action, a reasonably interesting premise, and a serviceable story.
Blacklight completely fails on all those fronts. There’s hardly any action: I mean, the climax is Liam Neeson in a dark house fighting a grand total of…four guys. Look, John Wick fought twelve guys in a house and that was just the opening action scene, this just won’t do. And the plot just fizzles out with dramatically slow pacing and wrapping things up in such a sloppy manner that I thought the movie was going to transition into a surprise third act.
Also, I really need to point out a specific thing for a moment. You know that effect where the shot suddenly flashes while the camera cuts rapidly between zooms and rewinds? It’s the sort of stuff you’d see on mediocre Youtube fan films. Well, that is constant throughout the film. I seriously couldn’t believe my eyes. Did the editors really think this would fly, in 2022? They had to have known this sort of edit was far, far below the lowest acceptable proficiency, right?
That’s the biggest failing for this movie, really. While I am tired of the oversaturation of daddy Neeson movies, I was willing to accept another as long as it did the bare minimum to support itself. But Blacklight puts in virtually no effort at all beyond its star. And when Neeson is the only thing carrying this film, even a strong typecast like him ends up caving under the pressure, along with the rest of the film. Perhaps time’s come for Neeson to hang up his particular set of skills once and for all.
Blacklight is now showing in theaters worldwide.
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