[Screen It]


(2021) (Liam Neeson, Jacob Perez) (PG-13)

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Dramatic Thriller: A widowed Vietnam vet goes up against a Mexican drug cartel to ensure that an orphaned boy safely gets to his relatives in Chicago.

Jim Hanson (LIAM NEESON) is a widowed former Marine who's about to lose his Arizona ranch due to his late wife's medical bills. Things get worse for him when a single Mexican mom, Rosa (TERESA RUIZ), and her son, Miguel (JACOB PEREZ), run in front of his truck, what with having just passed through a hole in the border fence. They're running from a Mexican drug cartel due to Miguel's uncle having wronged them and now they want revenge.

Jim doesn't want to get involved, but during a confrontation with the cartel's goon, Mauricio (JUAN PABLO RABA), and his small squad of hitmen, he ends up killing the leader's brother while Rosa is also fatally shot. Jim manages to escape and delivers the boy to the border patrol agency where his stepdaughter, Sarah Reynolds (KATHERYN WINNICK), works.

But after seeing the cartel waiting nearby, he decides to take the boy to an address Rosa earlier gave him before dying. The only problem is it's in Chicago and Mauricio has no intention of letting the boy get away. And thus begins their frantic road trip with the unlikely duo getting to know each other all while trying to stay one step ahead of the killers who are after them.

OUR TAKE: 5 out of 10

I've long said that a movie hero -- and thus the movie in which they do their thing -- is only as good as the villain they face. Imagine if rather than taking on Alan Rickman's brilliantly portrayed Hans Gruber, Bruce Willis' John McClane had to deal with a bland bad guy. Oh right, that would result in "Die Hard 2" rather than "Die Hard."

Of course, there are exceptions to that rule. If the related action is choreographed and executed -- not to mention nearly non-stop -- you can sometimes get away with less than memorable villains (as has been the case in the Keanu Reeves-led "John Wick" flicks). Or, if your hero can do amazing things -- like Jackie Chan way back in the day -- you don't want to pay attention to anyone else.

But when your star is 68-years-old, you need a good bad guy as the nemesis, and the lack of that -- along with a serious case of "been there, seen that before" feelings -- is what ends up stymying "The Marksman." The offering -- from writer/director Robert Lorenz and co-writers Chris Charles & Danny Kravitz -- isn't awful, but it's otherwise so unremarkable, by the books and constantly feels like lead Liam Neeson is simply going through the motions yet again that it might hit its intended mark, but barely tears through the target.

In the film, Neeson plays Arizona rancher Jim Hanson, a recently widowed ex-Marine who's facing foreclosure on his ranch due to his late wife's medical bills. He's just minding his business when a Mexican mom (Teresa Ruiz) and her boy (Jacob Perez) literally and figuratively cross his path as they pass through a hole in the border fence while trying to elude some cartel types who aren't done avenging the boy's uncle having wronged them.

The heavily tattooed leader (Juan Pablo Raba) just wants Hanson to give up the two, but the "I don't want any trouble" hero -- not exactly of the Clint Eastwood western mode, but certainly a cinematic cousin -- will have no part of that. Soon the bullets are flying, and both the mom and the villain's brother are dead.

The hero and the kid then go on the run and the bad guys try to track them down for the rest of the just short of two-hour film's duration. Along the way -- and continuing the late 2020 film trend of stories featuring reluctant older men taking care of kids (Clooney doing that in "Midnight Sky" and Hanks in "News of the World") -- the two get to know each other and bond after a rocky start. Those moments work fairly well and at least give the film something of interest and some connective emotional grounding.

While Raba is believable as the ruthless cartel henchmen, there's nothing different or memorable about the character. He might as well be a "Terminator" cyborg for that matter, although at least that created the twist of such villains being unstoppable.

Here, you know how things will play out, which might be okay for viewers wanting exactly that. But for the rest of us, we're hungering for some sort of twist on the predictable, especially as related to the villain. Alas, "The Marksman" will leave you hungry in such regards and thus rates as a 5 out of 10.

Reviewed January 8, 2021 / Posted January 15, 2021

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