No wonder the writers are on strike. Being forced to try to bring freshness to the same tired ideas over and over to get some studio work must be frustrating. I would be picketing Lionsgate (who is behind this movie) just because its really not easy making this kind of thing original. The latest ripoff – and it literally is because it comes from the 2015 Spanish film El Desconocido which itself has been remade more than once in the past few years – is the Liam Neeson starring Retribution. A better title might be Generic Neeson #9. In fact I even looked up the title on iMDB just to make sure this was a new Neeson movie.
This is not to say Regurgitation, er I mean Retribution isn’t effectively made. Its director, the talented Nimrod Antal (Control), does what he can to make Christopher Salmanpour’s (basically a procedural television writer) by-the-numbers script go by quickly and with some expert explosions tossed in as act breaks. It is just sad that age 71 the terrific Liam Neeson keeps succumbing to paycheck jobs. In this Neeson vehicle (literally) he plays Matt Turner, a Berlin-based businessman who seems more preoccupied with his work than his family, particularly his wife Heather (Embeth Davidtz) who is frustrated by his lack of attention. He is finally guilted into taking his daughter Emily (Lilly Aspell) to school, and along the way adding his wayward teenage son Zach to a routine car ride that turns into a nightmare when a disembodied voice that sounds a lot like that Jigsaw guy in Saw (another Lionsgate product) orders him to follow his directions and do not attempt to leave the car or the bomb that has been planted in it will explode. At first the kids are clueless, married instead to their cell phones in the backseat, but soon when it becomes all too real he has to tell them to stay put or everyone blows up. Perhaps the most terrifying moment for them is when he has to throw their iPhones out the window. Ouch.
The movie then becomes a series of instructions that lead to an effort by the mystery man to secure a fortune that we learn Matt knows quite a bit about. Is Neeson playing a shady character here? It all gets intense especially when he is ordered to shoot his business associate, Anders (Matthew Modine) as part of the, uh, plan. This all continues for 91 minutes total and even with that short running time it starts to feel awfully long because we have all seen variations of this gimmick in so many movies.
Think the godfather of this sub-genre, 1994’s Keanu Reeves/Sandra Bullock classic Speed. Add in Tom Hardy’s Locke, Halle Berry’s Kidnap, Naomi Watt’s The Desperate Hour, Russell Crowe’s Unhinged, Jake Gyllenhaal’s two Danish remakes The Guilty and Ambulance, and Colin Farrell’s Phone Booth, the latter which for me is the most ripped off of all the imitated. This is a typical late August cash grab, but we will provide no more spoilers in case you need your latest Neeson action fix. The actor plays it all with a straight face and his usual conviction and angry scowls mixed here with fatherly fear for what comes next. Norma Dumzweni adds some credibility later in the flick as Europoc Agent Angela Brickman who is determined to save the day. What must be frustrating fans of these fine veteran actors, is to see a 30 year reunion of Schindler’s List co-stars Neeson and Davidtz now stuck in such familiar popcorn fare.
Andrew Rona , Alex Heineman, Jaume Collett-Serra, Juan Sola were the producers.
Distributor: Lionsgate/ Roadside Attractions
Release Date: August 25, 2023
Director: Nimrod Antal
Screenwriter: Christopher Salmanpour
Cast: Liam Neeson, Embeth Davidtz, Jack Champion, Lilly Aspell, Matthew Modine, Norma Dumezweni
Running Time: 1 hr, 31 mins
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