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Run All Night

Liam Neeson shooting people. If that sounds like a familiar premise for a film, it’s for good reason. Over the last seven years, ever since Neeson surprised everyone with his transition into action territory with “Taken,” it seems to be the only type of movie the once respected actor has made. A man who was once nominated for an Oscar for his performance in “Schindler’s List” has since built a generic filmography that makes him more or less a walking joke. Seemingly every film, from “Taken” to last year’s “Non-Stop” follows the same at-this-point worn-down formula, with each film becoming more of a slog than the last. “Run All Night” could be the worst one yet, as it simply goes through the motions without doing much of anything particularly interesting.

Neeson plays Jimmy Conlon, a mobster who finds himself in a precarious situation with his boss after, through some of the most contrived circumstances I’ve ever seen in a major motion picture, he ends up shooting his son. Once friends, that boss, played by Ed Harris, is now an enemy and plans on making him feel the same hurt by taking his own son, Mike, played by Joel Kinnaman, away from him. Naturally, Jimmy will do anything to prevent that from happening, which leads to one long night of shootouts and chases.

And I mean loooong night. Not since last year’s “Transformers: Age of Extinction” has a movie been so unnecessarily long in relation to the complexity, or lack thereof, of its story. Thankfully, “Run All Night” isn’t quite as long as that movie, as it clocks in at roughly two hours, but it feels about the same. Characterization and emotion is minimal, though the film tries to create some of both with amateur screenplay tactics—Mike is estranged from Jimmy, meaning he has never met his own grandkids, all the while he’s freezing in his home because the poor guy can’t afford to fix his heater, etc.—so there’s very little grab onto here. In fact, it’s one of those rare films where I was actually rooting for the supposed “good guy” to lose.

You see, despite attempts to make Jimmy a likable character, his introduction shows him as the boorish pig he is, as he dresses up as Santa, gets drunk, treats the kids around him poorly and then proceeds to speak to an attractive woman in what can only be described as sexually abusive language. The introduction to this character is so bad that it leaves a lasting impression that later acts of goodwill fail to reverse, though even if it did, a late film reveal shows the true cowardice and selfishness of his personality.

Meanwhile, his boss, Shawn, shows empathy and even a tinge of regret. When he turns down a business deal with a local drug dealer trying to peddle heroine, he explains it’s because when he did something similar in his younger, more naïve days, it led to too much hardship, as those he loved became hooked on it and he lost them all. He’s still a bad guy, of course, and has most certainly done or ordered people to do worse things than Jimmy, but the film, perhaps unintentionally, paints him in a better light than the supposed hero.

Simply put, “Run All Night” has everything backwards and its tepid action does little to hide that fact. Its action is accompanied by few truly heart racing moments and lots of far-too-dark cinematography, occasionally aggressive close-ups and shaky cam and shot reverse shot shootouts. It feels very much like action filmmaking 101, like what an amateur filmmaker without the experience to truly know what he or she is doing would produce if given millions of dollars to toy with.

Run All Night receives 1/5



Phantom, which is inspired by largely mysterious, but believed-to-be-true events, runs into a very significant problem right off the bat. It takes place almost entirely on a Soviet submarine and all of its inhabitants are Russian, yet all the actors, or all the major players at least, are American. Despite an opening title card sequence that sets the time and place in the Soviet Union during the Cold War, it takes some time to realize that these characters aren’t actually American, partially because nobody even tries to hide it, seemingly forgetting that they’re, you know, actors and should be capable of crafting a character of a different ethnicity. This is just one of many blunders in Phantom, a tepid thriller filled with empty dialogue and clichéd plot turns.

Ed Harris plays Demi, the captain of the vessel, and his mission is vague, written on a piece of paper and locked inside a safe onboard. Additionally, he has a few straggler technicians that have been sanctioned to accompany them for reasons unknown, the leader being Bruni, played by David Duchovny. Bruni is the forceful type and demands he follow his orders, despite a chain of command that places Demi at the top. Eventually, Bruni’s sinister intentions become clear and the boat splits into two sanctions. An underwater battle is about to ensue and the victor will either save the world or destroy it.

Phantom sounds exciting. A war between friendlies turned against each other inside of an underwater metal tomb full of claustrophobic spaces and unforeseen consequences should lead to the type of tension that causes nail biters to file them down until their fingers start bleeding, but such is not the case here. Up until the final sequence of events when the tension is admittedly palpable, the most exciting thing that happens is a slight bump with a cargo ship. Such an event is surely dangerous in real life, but it doesn’t make for a particularly exciting movie.

Perhaps aware of this, the filmmakers give Demi a haunted past, a past that is burdened with bad memories and difficult decisions. This gives way to hallucinations that recall that troubled past. There are fires, floods, collisions, blood and more, most of which make sense given that these moments he’s recollecting took place during a doomed expedition, even if they are superfluous to the actual story at hand. Now, the ghost dog that jumps out at him, where that came from is anybody’s guess.

Due to some surprisingly committed performances, particularly from the great Ed Harris, Phantom is at its best when it isn’t talking. The actors say more with their eyes than they ever do with their words, especially given that much of it is drab Navy dialogue that all but the already underwater initiated will find boring. There’s lots of plotting courses, ordering dives, readying the weapons, reaching thermocline and more and most of this dialogue is yelled into the intercom to the crew rather than spoken through character interaction. This type of dialogue will fail to resonate with most and it doesn’t do much to help craft compelling characters either.

Furthermore, the editing of the film fails to keep its place consistent, particularly in the placement of certain characters in relation to others. When one quietly sneaking sailor rises out of a cover in the floor to an imposing boot, one naturally believes he’s accidentally stumbled onto an enemy, but in reality, he’s come full circle and is back with his comrades. To make matters worse, most of these characters are extraneous in nature, so it’s difficult enough to separate them into good and bad camps, much less keep track of what they’re doing and where they’re heading.

Phantom is a mess. At times, particularly during the final sequences (at least before its hokey ending that plays up the crew’s sacrifices), it’s an enjoyable mess, but its few positives certainly don’t outweigh its general sloppiness. Submarine thrillers aren’t exactly oversaturating the market, so if that’s your cup of tea, I suppose Phantom will scratch that itch, but everybody else can steer clear knowing they aren’t missing much.

Phantom receives 2/5


Man on a Ledge

Man on a Ledge is a misleading title. Unlike Snakes on a Plane or Zombie Strippers, whose titles reflected everything they had to offer, Man on a Ledge tries to be more. It starts, sure enough, with a man on a ledge, but its story isn’t confined to that man or that location. Its seemingly succinct title is just a glimpse of what the movie has to offer. Unfortunately, what it offers doesn’t amount to much more than the occasional mild thrill. It’s not the worst movie to ever come out in the dump month of January, but it’s a good example of why this time of year is the worst for moviegoers. Even movies with interesting premises and plenty of potential fail to live up to quality standards.

The film stars as Sam Worthington as Nick Cassidy, the titular man on the ledge. He has just escaped from prison after being convicted of stealing a $40 million diamond from a real estate mogul named David Englander, played by Ed Harris, a crime he claims he didn’t commit. Now he wants to clear his name, but to do so would mean finding the diamond in Englander’s possession and showing to the world that he was set up. So as he talks with a police psychologist, played by Elizabeth Banks, about his intentions, a massive heist run by Nick’s brother and his brother’s girlfriend, played by Jamie Bell and Genesis Rodriguez, begins only a building over.

That’s a great premise if there ever was one. Sure, the trailers ruined it beforehand, but if you walked blindly into Man on a Ledge, it would look like a simple tale of a desperate man contemplating the unthinkable. The story twist would throw you for a loop, but that twist’s inherent intrigue never pans out into anything meaningful. Your interest grows weary as the story loses traction, becoming even more outlandish as each minute ticks by. For instance, after you learn that it took a year to plan the heist, you can’t help but role your eyes over the team’s approach, which involves such ridiculousness as taking a picture of a room with a digital camera and then dangling the picture in front of a security camera, slyly fooling the guard who just so happened to look away as they hung it up. Such a trite course of action surely couldn’t have taken more than a few minutes to figure out, much less a year.

Though small in nature, quibbles like that eventually lead the viewer to a realization. How did the team know the layout of the building anyway, including the vents? How did they know what vault they would be up against once inside? How did they know anything at all? You’re supposed to just go with the fact that they planned for a year and already looked into everything, but I wasn’t buying it. The writing leaves too many questions unanswered and uses plot conveniences to get the characters where they need to be. Nothing is explained and the final twist, which will remain unspoiled, is a real head slapper. This thing needed at least an extra hour at its front to help lead into what you eventually see.

The thing is that if the heist was fun, these questions wouldn’t matter so much and would be easy to look past, but it’s relatively small in scale (at least compared to other heist movies) and the cutesy, flirty dialogue between the two pulling off the heist is beyond annoying. The over-the-top and comically insane heist pulled off in last year’s Tower Heist is more interesting (and believable) than this.

The men behind Nick’s set up are obvious from the get-go, Banks is miscast (in perhaps the worst actress-to-profession casting since Tara Reid as an anthropologist in Uwe Boll’s misfire, Alone in the Dark) and Worthington’s eventual transition into an action hero cross between James Bond and Spider-Man is sudden and insane, but it’s not all bad. Ed Harris is great as the evil mogul, which gives at least a little bit of a reason to care for the good guys to prevail and a couple of late movie stunts are fun to watch, but there comes a time when you want it to get to the point. The problem is that there is no point and its thrills are insubstantial, certainly not good enough to carry a 102 minute movie. It simply doesn’t have enough to sustain itself through what eventually becomes another lame, predictable action flop. Like I said earlier, Man on a Ledge may not be the worst movie to ever come out in January, but that in no way means it’s good.

Man on a Ledge receives 2/5