[Screen It]


(2020) (Liam Neeson, Kate Walsh) (PG-13)

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Dramatic Thriller: After trying to turn himself in to the FBI, a bank robber must contend with two agents trying to take his stolen money for themselves and their efforts to eliminate any witnesses and obstacles in their way.

Tom Dolan (LIAM NEESON) is a former Marine who's turned to a life of crime in that he's anonymously robbed $9 million from twelve banks in seven states over the past several years. Known as the "In and Out Bandit," he's managed to elude the authorities so far, but now that he's met and fallen for divorced grad school student Annie Wilkins (KATE WALSH), he needs to clear his conscience. Thus, and while keeping her in the dark, he calls the FBI to turn himself in, with the stipulation being that by returning all of the money he receive a reduced sentence of two years with visitation rights.

Supervising agents Samuel Baker (ROBERT PATRICK) and recently divorced Sean Meyers (JEFFREY DONOVAN) figure he's just yet another person claiming to be the bandit, but following protocol Baker sends junior agents John Nivens (JAI COURTNEY) and Ramon Hall (ANTHONY RAMOS) to check out Tom's story. Upon meeting him, they likewise don't believe his story, but take the self-storage key he gives them and head to the facility where Annie works as the manager.

There, they find millions in cash, and believing they can get away with taking it for themselves, Nivens convinces Hall to go along with the crime. But Hall doesn't realize Nivens is planning on eliminating all loose ends, and things go south when Nivens tries to kill Tom but ends up killing another FBI agent instead when that man unexpectedly shows up. Tom manages to escape and then tries to figure out how to keep Annie safe all while planning his revenge on the FBI agents who are now framing him.

OUR TAKE: 5 out of 10

I have to be honest with you that whenever I use the phrase "Let me be honest with you," I honestly think about a professor friend who's been known to reply to such wording by asking something along the lines of "Does that mean you haven't been honest with me up until now?"

His point, of course, is to point out the idiocy of such a phrase that -- ah, you thought I was going to say it again, didn't you? -- comes from origins completely unfamiliar to me. Perhaps it has something to do with pulling one's leg or stealing someone's thunder.

In the action-drama "Honest Thief -- presumably titled in the belief of that being an oxymoron -- the titular protagonist (Liam Neeson) is a long-time and so far anonymous bank robber who's decided to come clean -- and clear his conscience -- after meeting the woman of his dreams, Annie (Kate Walsh) who's yet to learn of his profession.

But FBI agents Sam Baker (Robert Patrick and Sean Meyers (Jeffrey Donovan) think he's just another attention seeker who's pulling their legs and trying to steal the thunder from the real so-called "In and Out Burglar." As protocol dictates, Baker sends two junior agents to check on his claim and after initially feeling the same way about him, they discover he indeed is an honest thief.

Agents Nivens (Jai Courtney) and Hall (Anthony Ramos), however, are not as they decide to take the money as their own newfound retirement funds, lie to their superiors about not finding anything, and then tie up all loose ends. Which, of course, means Tom.

Which, of course, means that the actor playing him is going to return to "Taken" form and unleash some vengeance on the two fools who apparently haven't seen any of Neeson's second-half acting career. Yes, that's pretty much boiled down to playing such parts in such films to the point that it's bordering on if not already belly-flopped entirely into caricature and farce.

That's not to say the Oscar-winning actor is bad in the part. Far from it, as he brings his usual mixture of determination, action-star physicality, and a certain sadness in his eyes leading all of the way into his soul. It's just that so much of this is on auto-pilot, and writer/director Mark Williams and co-screenwriter Steve Allrich don't bring anything new to the table, that it simply feels rote.

It doesn't help that we're not given the opportunity to see Tom and Annie's relationship flourish -- after their "meet cute" introduction at the head of the film, we then quickly jump a year ahead to them already being a couple considering moving in together. So, when Annie learns of Tom's past criminal behavior, she too quickly blows off the initial shock and goes along for the ride. And none of that feels honest to the character.

Courtney is okay as the lead baddie with Ramos playing his "I'm having second thoughts now" partner in crime, but Donovan is completely flat as the senior FBI agent who wants to find his partner's killer and determine if that's Tom or not. I get that he's down in the dumps as the script has him just finalized his divorce (where the wife got the house and he got their dog), but he's so morose and low-energy that it drains what little forward momentum the film has by default.

I'll have to be honest when I say I enjoyed certain parts of the flick and Neeson is competent in the part like always. But I honestly can't say whether viewers will flock to another retread of the nearly 70-year-old actor cashing in another paycheck. Mediocre at best, "Honest Thief" rates as a 5 out of 10.

Reviewed October 7, 2020 / Posted October 16, 2020

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