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Liam Neeson surprised the world in 2008 with the smash hit Taken, as the actor who was mostly known for serious dramatic performances became a man of action. Ever since that film’s success Neeson has periodically returned to the well of playing men with a particular set of skills, waiting for the wrong folks to force him into using them. Mark Williams' Honest Thief is the latest title in the line of projects trying to cash in on the concept, and if there’s one thing this new movie is good for it’s to prove that maybe it’s time to retire the "Liam Neeson Action Movie," or, at the very least, it’s time to start making parodies of that formerly effective formula, with Neeson pivoting into more of a Leslie Nielsen-style leading man.
The battle plan this time out sees Neeson playing Tom Carter, a man known to the world as the “In and Out Bandit,” much to his chagrin. Engaging in the lucrative hobby of robbing banks, he has a little over $9 million is in his possession, and he’s ready to turn it all in to the FBI. His play to make amends comes on the anniversary of striking up a relationship with Annie (Kate Walsh), a self-storage manager whom he meets randomly and falls in love with. But before he can be hers with a clear conscience, he needs to turn himself in and make it all right – a plan that’s complicated by two ambitiously greedy junior agents (Jai Courtney and Anthony Ramos) who throw a wrench into the works of Tom’s well-drawn plans who try and take the money. Needless to say, this is the biggest mistake these men could make, as Mr. Carter has some secrets that come in handy while trying to clear his name.
Honest Thief feels like reheated leftovers.
You can practically see where Honest Thief is going with every twist and turn it employs, and if that was the greatest flaw in Mark Williams' film then you would at least still be able to experience varying degrees of entertainment. It pains me to say that despite looking like a movie that could let Liam Neeson fans enjoy another exercise in reenacting Taken but with minor alterations, this is an exercise that feels like reheated leftovers carved off of previous projects of its ilk, and thrown together without much meat to help make it a meal.
Honest Thief is short, clocking in a little over the hour-and-a-half when all is said and done, but it’s not sweet. It really wants to be, though, with Tom and Annie’s relationship playing heavily into the story. However, there’s not enough time spent with the couple to really understand the significance of their romance, or to even feel the warmth of their suitable banter. We get more set up pertaining to the relationship between Jeffrey Donovan’s beleaguered/recently divorced FBI agent and his dog than we do with this pair of human co-stars, and it’s just the beginning of where the rote film trips itself up.
Even Liam Neeson seems tired of making the movie that Honest Thief is trying to be.
When you hire Liam Neeson, you’re always going to get at least a spark of entertainment, as the man is too charismatic on screen to ever be totally boring. But in Honest Thief, even that spark seems a bit weak, as it looks like even Neeson is exhausted performing in the shadow of Frank Mills’ destructive legacy. It’s actually more enjoyable to watch the protagonist wrestle with trying to become a better person and turning himself in than it is seeing him wreak the minimum amount of havoc to preserve the film’s PG-13 rating. But surely in the lack of such bone crunching, adrenaline pumping action, there’s dramatic character development to be had, right?
In case you were actually thrown off by that sassy questioning, no, there isn’t. There could have been, however, as Jai Courtney and Anthony Ramos put their all into their roles as the antagonistic FBI agents looking to cash in on Tom Carter’s big confession. Another pair of archetypes, Courtney being the vicious, no holds barred type and Ramos filling in as the compromised family man, their conflict could have been the fuel for more tense and dramatic events to transpire in Honest Thief. Despite their best acting efforts, the script never gives them the chance to break free of the movie's lack of stakes.
The only way Honest Thief would have worked is if it had decided to take a parody approach.
Too tame to be deadly, but too serious to be funny, Honest Thief is caught in a limbo that feels more like hell. The most promising thing this flick has to offer is that, with another pass of rewrites, it could have become a potentially decent romantic comedy spoof of what we’ve come to think of as “the next Liam Neeson movie.” Whether it’s by accident or not, the narrative presented points towards a funnier, more enjoyable alternative whenever it tries to be charming or humorous. When you’ve got Jeffrey Donovan griping about getting a dog in his divorce, and ultimately becoming endeared to the beautiful beast, it’s a sure sign that you could have gone for a broader toned farce.
Liam Neeson’s certainly no stranger to that prospect, as Cold Pursuit saw him playing another hardcase killer with a darkly comic overtone, and cameos in films like Ted 2 show he’s up for anything. Honest Thief doesn’t cut it as entertainment, even in the year of streaming debuts and the rise of indie films being given a bigger and better spotlight. But if this movie is to serve a purpose, it should be to petition for more Liam Neeson fronted comedies, with room for a well-constructed parody of the action blockbusters he’s clearly over making. Until that day comes, all this sort of movie serves to do is rob your time, and these days that’s a theft that’s felt all the more deeply.