[Screen It]


(2019) (Liam Neeson, Tom Bateman) (R)

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Action/Black Comedy: A father seeks out deadly revenge on those responsible for his son's murder, all of which sets off a battle between rival drug operations.
Nels Coxman (LIAM NEESON) is the snowplow driver in Kehoe, Colorado where he lives with his wife, Grace (LAURA DERN), and their young adult son, Kyle (MICHEÁL RICHARDSON). Nels is liked so much that he's just been named the citizen of the year, but his celebration turns to grief when Kyle ends up dead, supposedly from a heroin overdose.

That development puts added pressure on Nels and Grace's already strained marriage, especially when he won't accept that his son was an addict. His gut feeling proves true when he has a chance encounter with Kyle's injured coworker who gives him the name of the person responsible for Kyle's murder. After getting the name of that man's boss, Nels kills him and starts working his way up the chain of command toward Trevor "Viking" Calcote (TOM BATEMAN).

Divorced from Aya (JULIA JONES) and sharing a tenuous joint custody of their young son, Ryan (NICHOLAS HOLMES), the high-strung Viking is the head of a Denver based cocaine operation. When he learns of the murders of his workers, he immediately believes that's the work of rival drug boss White Bull (TOM JACKSON) who long ago made a territory control agreement with Viking's father.

As those two organizations prepare for war, Nels seeks out the help of his retired criminal brother, Brock (WILLIAM FORSYTHE), for a way to kill Viking, all while local cops John "Gip" Gipsky (JOHN DOMAN) and Kim Dash (EMMY ROSSUM) start investigating the rash of dead bodies that are starting to pile up.

OUR TAKE: 4 out of 10
Whenever a film begins with an Oscar Wilde quote and stars Liam Neeson, you know things are probably going to be interesting. And when that quote is "Some cause happiness wherever they go; others, whenever they go" and considering the actor's track record of recent, you probably wouldn't be wrong for guessing he's not playing a character who fulfills the first part.

Instead, it's far more likely it will be related to the second half of the quote in regard to his character dispatching others who are deserving of a comeuppance and thus causing a degree of happiness or two in viewers who enjoy the vigilantism the performer is most recognized of recent.

That would certainly seem to be the case for "Cold Pursuit" where Neeson plays a Kehoe, Colorado snowplow driver in an equally chilly marriage (Laura Dern plays his wife) who wins the local citizen of the year award only to receive news that their young adult son (Michael Richardson) has been found dead. The official word is that it's from a heroin overdose, but Nils knows his son isn't a druggie. And since we earlier saw the guy get roughed up and abducted, we know it's only a matter of time before our snowplow hero turned vigilante anti-hero learns the same.

At that point, and especially considering what follows thereafter, you half expect to hear Ennio Morricone's main theme from "The Good the Bad and The Ugly" play over the snowy environs (in contrast to the dusty isolation a certain other character once traipsed) as we see Nils get to work. And by that I mean this isn't your typical hardcore, wish-fulfillment vigilante flick that the actor has most become associated with of recent.

Instead, it turns out to be a black comedy, something I would have known had I seen the original 2014 Norwegian film "In Order of Disappearance" (which few people other than critics saw). And, I've been told by some of those other reviewers, this is nearly a shot-for-shot remake of that earlier offering (with the same director, Hans Petter Moland, handling both flicks).

Beyond the overall issue of Hollywood having a need to remake films rather than come up with new stories, the big overriding issue here is that black comedies might be the most difficult genre to pull off. Yes, any movie is hard to make, but when you double-up and mix genre elements, that balancing act has to be just right lest the whole kit and caboodle tumble off that beam and land with a thud.

Alas, I found that to be the case due to the tone being all over the board, the protagonist disappearing for long stretches during the film's nearly two-hour runtime, and a slew of minor characters that never amount to much beyond filler and supposedly quirky window dressing.

An example of the jarring tonal changes occurs right away. Following his son's death, Nils prepares to shoot himself in the mouth with a rifle when he's interrupted by his son's bloody coworker. That leads to the first in a chain of bad guys the snowplow driver is going to follow, and as soon as he dispatches the first, we see an onscreen title card listing that now dead man's nickname, real name and a symbol for his religious affiliation. We're then introduced to the lead antagonist (Tom Bateman) who chews the scenery to such a degree that complete global deforestation might occur if Neeson's character doesn't get to him in time.

Before then, however, we meet more of his thugs, another set of bad guys in the form of a rival crime family comprised of Native Americans (led by Tom Jackson); two cops (Emmy Rossum and John Doman) where only one has a real interest in solving the sudden increase in dead bodies showing up; and the protagonist's retired criminal brother (William Forsythe) whose overprotective Thai wife (Elizabeth Thai) is nothing short of a borderline offensive stereotype.

I guess that's supposed to be just more of the jokesy quality Moland and screenwriter Frank Baldwin are going for -- in what some will likely argue is an overall send-up of the vigilante sub-genre that Neeson helped re-popularize in the past decade or so.

But this isn't "Airplane" or "The Naked Gun" where the intentions and tone are consistent from the get-go. Instead, this one starts out one way and then veers all over the place collecting characters and storylines as it goes, resulting in a mishmash of genres that just didn't work for me. I'm not sure what Oscar Wilde would have said about it, but for me happiness came once the end credits started to roll. "Cold Pursuit" rates as a 4 out of 10.

Reviewed January 29, 2019 / Posted February 8, 2019

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