Movie review: ‘Blacklight’ stretches Liam Neeson formula, still entertains

LOS ANGELES, Feb. 9 (UPI) — Blacklight is a perfectly entertaining Liam Neeson action movie. It gets a little carried away with its generic plot, but the action comes frequently, so it’s a good time at the movies.

Travis Block (Neeson) works for the FBI, helping extract undercover agents who may have gone too deep. His pursuit of potential whistleblower Dusty Crane (Taylor John Smith) leads Block to reporter Mira Jones (Emmy Raver-Lampman), who makes him really question who he works for.

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This is a fairly standard character for Neeson. Block obviously has a very particular set of skills he can pull out whenever the situation calls for it. His pursuit of Crane escalates very quickly, too.

Crane puts up a fight against arresting police, and escapes from Block’s custody. Block gives chase, and there’s some exciting action just about every 10 minutes.

Director Mark Williams staged real car chases with some inventive uses of a garbage truck. The cuts are a tad quicker than the eye might prefer, but you still can tell those are real cars and trucks performing the stunts.

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Block discovers the actual conspiracy a lot later than the trailers make it appear. For much of the movie, it’s just Block chasing his fugitive, but it’s still a solid straight-ahead pursuit movie.

Alas, it appears Block’s boss, Gabe Robinson (Aidan Quinn) is using FBI resources for nefarious purposes, and those resources include Block.

That’s all fine. Corrupt government agents are perfectly valid villains for the likes of Neeson or Steven Seagal. Blacklight seems to mistake that thin action movie motivation for a real exposure.

Robinson monolog about the merits of his covert program to his henchmen. Why? Who is he convincing here? The audience already gets that he’s gone too far.

Perhaps Jones’ editor needs more convincing, though. When Jones tells her editor the extent of the FBI’s misdeeds, the biggest reaction she can muster up is, “Yeah, that is messed up.”

Such a lackluster response is probably telling that this is still a generic, made-up conspiracy. It’s not a real exposure.

Even if there are shady government programs, Blacklight isn’t the call to action. The conspiracy is just the instigation for the action hero to get the bad guys. Indiana Jones used Nazis as the bad guys, but those movies didn’t delve into their politics.

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Dialogue about Block’s family is on the nose about how the job made Block unavailable. His daughter, Amanda (Claire van der Bloom), reminds him why her mom –, his wife — left. Block wants to be in his granddaughter’s life, but he may be a bad influence with all his paranoia.

Don’t worry about delusions of grandeur threatening a good time. These histrionics are interrupted frequently enough by thrilling scenes that they don’t weigh it down.

Fred Topel, who attended film school at Ithaca College, is a UPI entertainment writer based in Los Angeles. He has been a professional film critic since 1999, a Rotten Tomatoes critic since 2001 and a member of the Television Critics Association since 2012. Read more of his work in Entertainment.

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