Liam Neeson has made a good living the last decade or so playing action movie heroes. In 2008, French film godfather Luc Besson turned out at thriller called “Taken.” Neeson starred as a former spy whose daughter is abducted.
Then we saw “Taken 2” and “Taken 3.” And the big Ulsterman began collaborating with director Jaume Collet-Serra. They made “Unknown,” “Non-Stop,” “The Commuter,” and the superior “Run All Night,” all action pictures with Neeson playing an experienced Everyman who is dropped into troubles the solutions for which require fighting and running and shooting.
The best of these Neeson movies is 2014’s A Walk Among the Tombstones, in which he gave us a believable and powerful version of drunk, divorced, and demoralized Matthew Scudder, Robert Bloch’s book series character.
Now Neeson is back in another action picture, one obviously in the tradition of his 21st century films. The movie is “Honest Thief.” Here he plays a retired Army demolitions expert who discovers he can’t trust FBI agents. As trust of the FBI is probably now at an all-time low, this detail feels current.
Director and co-author Mark Williams has attracted a strong supporting cast to the project — Robert “T2” Patrick, Jeffrey “Burn Notice” Donovan (who hazards a successful Boston accent), and Aussie Jai Courtney included. Williams also has the rhythm of the action right.
Unfortunately, there isn’t enough action in the movie, and so the time is filled with the characters talking. The back story they provide us is that Neeson’s Tom Carter got wealthy working as soldier. Stop laughing. There’s worse.
His mother and father died in sentimental ways that belong to campaign stump speeches or romance novel plots. Carter was then angry with his father’s former employer, so he robbed the bank where the company did business. That’ll show ‘em.
He enjoyed the excitement of bank robbery. So he robbed nine banks in six years, I think it was. He was never caught and got away with $9,000,000. But then he met a middle-aged grad student named Annie (Kate Walsh). If he is going to be honest with her, he decides, he needs to turn in the money and take a light prison sentence.
So he calls the Bureau. They have gotten used to hearing confessions of those who claim to be “The In and Out Bandit.” Middle manager Baker (Patrick) sends two agents out to interview Carter. He turns over three mil to them. They decide to stage his death and keep the money. But Baker shows up on the scene and is himself killed.
Carter gets away. He hides from the agents who want the rest of the money. Baker’s old friend, the recently divorced and dog-bearing Agent Meyers (Donovan) begins inquiring into the case. The crooked agents go after Annie. And Carter begins to stage an attempt to eliminate the bad guys.
There are plenty of scenes of shooting, running, driving, fighting, and blowing up during the body of the movie. But none of them last long. Maybe Neeson, like James Garner after seven years of portraying Jim Rockford, had gotten too old to take the punishment which more complete development of the action scenes would have required.
For whatever reason, Carter is the Neeson action hero who is most likely to be remembered as sensitive and talky. That’s too bad. But even when limited by its star’s age, “Honest Thief” manages to entertain. Modestly.