'Run All Night'
The strangest thing about ‘Run All Night’ is the fact that it just can’t decide what movie it wants to be. For a while, it seems as though it will be a hardboiled crime thriller littered with movie stars playing street toughs. Then someone threatens the life of Liam Neeson’s son, and we all know what that means!
At that point, the movie turns into one of those living cartoons in which Neeson kills everyone within his field of vision and then kills a few more people out of sight for good measure. It’s a ridiculous cinematic endeavor and a deeply stupid one too, despite all the somber acting that suggests otherwise. Thankfully, the one thing that ‘Run All Night’ never proves to be is boring, and that’s just enough to make it passable, mindless, blood-soaked entertainment.
Sir Liam Neeson (of The Kingdom of Throat Chops) stars as former Mob hitman Jimmy Conlon, who’s now a full-time alcoholic struggling to drink away his memories. His son Mike (Joel Kinnaman) doesn’t speak to him anymore out of disgust, and he’s never even met his grandchildren or daughter-in-law (Genesis Rodriguez). Jimmy is still in touch with his former Mob boss’ son, Danny Maguire (Boyd Holdbrook), though. That little tattooed punk is always up to no good, but he and his father Shawn Maguire (Ed Harris) are willing to toss Conlon a bone occasionally for old times’ sake (like, say, playing drunken Santa at a Christmas party).
It’s a miserable little world that’s about to get a whole lot worse. You see, son Mike accidentally stumbles onto Danny murdering someone. After a series of misunderstandings, Jimmy is forced to kill the dirtbag to save his son. Shawn doesn’t take too kindly to that behavior. Before you know it, Jimmy has to kill every Irish mobster and crooked cop in New York City. Plus, Vincent D’Onofrio follows it all as the one honest cop in town, because why not?
By this point, the movie goes absolutely Looney Tunes with an increasingly massive series of action scenes in which Jimmy tries to redeem his lost soul by killing more people than ever before in the name of paternal protection. Then to make things even more ridiculous, Common pops up as an evil assassin with an ’80s laser-sight gun.
The deeply bizarre tonal split in the film can likely be attributed to the script from sincere dramatist Brad Ingelsby (‘Out of the Furnace’), while directing duties fell into the hands of the redonkulous Jaume Collet-Serra (‘Non-Stop’ and ‘The Orphan’). It’s hard to predict from scene-to-scene whether we’re supposed to take this material seriously or simply lean back and laugh it off through mouthfuls of popcorn. In one moment, Harris and Neeson will share a genuinely tense and well-performed stand-off. Then the camera will fly across the city like something in a music video and land on an absurd car chase. It’s never consistent, likely because the project started as an earnest drama and was transformed into a cartoon action movie once Neeson signed on along with a director who once hid a bomb in a briefcase full of cocaine on an airplane. (Oh, ‘Non-Stop’, you were so delightfully dumb.) There’s a certain whiplash to be had in watching that awkward mash-up, and also some genuine pleasure too.
You see, the cast is quite good, so the earnest dramatic scenes actually pack a little punch, unlike the laughable family set up in a ‘Taken’ movie. Sure, those scenes can get ludicrous and melodramatic, but that’s okay because there’s also a sequence in which Neeson scales the side of a flaming apartment building while Common fires a gun at him (despite half his face being burned off) and a helicopter lights it all dramatically with a spotlight. The world isn’t exactly realistic. If nothing else, the constant tonal shifts make the movie a far less predictable. Oh sure, you’ll be able to spot the plot twists from a mile away, but you’ll never be able to guess whether those twists will feel silly or serious. It’s actually kind of fun, and Collet-Serra shoots it in a glossy style so over-the-top that you have to laugh at the sheer insanity of the production. By the time Nick Nolte shows up sounding like a badger has crawled down his throat and is chewing on his vocal chords, you can’t even feel sorry for the former movie star. You’ll be too busy marveling at how absurd it is that the guy is in the flick at all.
‘Run All Night’ doesn’t really suit the usual classification of “good” or “bad.” I suppose if you were to judge it as a serious work of art, it’s pretty horrible. But as mindless entertainment to laugh at (not with), it’s a blast. The movie has some strong performances (especially Ed Harris, a man incapable of bad acting) and some hilariously bad ones (such as the wildly miscast Common as a cartoon killing machine). It has some genuinely thrilling action sequences and ludicrously staged set-pieces. There are good ideas and bad ideas aplenty tossed inside the ‘Run All Night’ blender, and you can never tell which one will pop onto screen next. However, it all flies by in such a quick two-hour rush that you’ll certainly feel like you got your money’s worth given that’s it’s at least two movies worth of material condensed into that screen time.
Movies in which Liam Neeson kills everyone within the city limits to protect his family are a genre now, and ‘Run All Night’ is probably one of the better entries in this strange second act of the Irish thesp’s career. Granted, you’ll need to turn your brain off to feel that way, but if you’re still showing up for Liam Neeson action movies at this point, that likely won’t be a problem for you.