‘Run All Night’
Director:
Jaume Collet-Serra
Stars: Liam Neeson, Joel Kinnaman
Rating: R
2 (out of 5) Globes

Liam Neeson Fogie Fighting Romps have two extremes: mindless (“Taken” and its sequels) and dark ("The Grey," last year’s “Walk Among the Tombstones”). “Run All Night” veers madly, drunkenly between the two. It gets dark — darker, perhaps, than any of the former Oskar Schindler's Bronson-y films. Neeson’s Jimmy Conlon is here a full-blown alkie, living at the bottom of a whiskey bottle so as to atone for his sins. The onetime Oskar Schindler even introduced doing his own “Bad Santa” at a Christmas party. What’s ailing him? A lifetime of murder, having served as a fearsome mob enforcer. His boss, Shawn (Ed Harris), reformed and cleaned up; Jimmy burnt every bridge, including the one to his son, Mike (Joel Kinnaman). Saturday night!

Then again, this is a modern Liam Neeson picture, which means it’s also, semi-improbably, an action movie. A pretty out-there set of coincidences lead to Mike enraging Danny (Boyd Holbrook), Shawn’s loose cannon son. Jimmy kills Danny to save Mike, and Shawn, in his trauma, marshals all of his considerable forces, from Mafioso to corrupt cops, to take out not Jimmy but Mike. Why let him live? Because, Shawn tells him in the film’s most intense scene, he wants Jimmy to feel the same incurable soul-sickness currently eating away at him. 

But once again, this is still a modern Liam Neeson picture, and Jimmy’s attempts to save his estranged and still extraordinarily bitter son include car chases, close-quarter beatdowns and an elaborate game of hide-and-seek in a housing project. This is where Jaume Collet-Serra should come in. He’s the director of two of the more respectable Neeson outings, “Unknown” and “Non-Stop” — ably-directed thrillers that don’t completely forget about character. And yet Collet-Serra whiffs most of the action. An under-the-7-line car chase is all about cheap sensation and awkward insert shots of Neeson turning a steering wheel. A mano-e-mano in an MTA bathroom has force and lots of knocked over things, but lacks the shape of the bathroom duel in “Non-Stop.” (Bathrooms: Collet-Serra’s trademark.)

This is far too heavy and advanced for Collet-Serra, and as a result of less confident direction, “Run All Night” winds up alternating between dumb action with sloppy writing — despite being pursued by seemingly the entire city, Jimmy and Mike routinely and sometimes easily evade capture — and real, aching character moments. It wants to be a ’70s throwback but also can't help being a silly thriller, one that eventually employs a most lazy cliche: the unstoppable (but probably stoppable) super-deadly/-expensive hitman (Common, sans facial hair). It’s a frustrating mixed bag: grimy and morally complex one minute and stupid and sloppy the next. That it also has some of Ed Harris’ best work in years only makes it more annoying.

Follow Matt Prigge on Twitter @mattprigge