If you don’t count this past February’s “Marlowe” (which was much more of a slow-paced drama than an action film), it’s actually been 16-months since the last Liam Neeson thriller. So, I guess we were due.
Here comes “Retribution”. The first thing writer Chris Salmanpour and director Nimrod Antal had to decide was what to name the lead character. Neeson’s already played a Mike, Michael, Tom, Jim, Bill, Bryan, Martin, Harry, Nelson, Travis and Alex. So why not… Matt?
Matt’s a high-level financial advisor in a struggling marriage. He’s also stepdad to a typically uncooperative teen son and younger daughter. The family lives in Berlin. One morning, while taking the kids to school, he gets a call on his phone. The unidentified caller (listed as “Unknown” — also the title of Neeson’s 2011 thriller directed by Jaume Collet-Serra, who’s a producer on “Retribution”) informs him that there’s there’s A BOMB underneath his seat.
The mysterious voice instructs Matt to continue driving, with the kids in the backseat. If any of them try leave the car, it will explode. Meantime, Matt’s wife, he’ll learn a short time later, is at an attorney’s office filing for divorce. Talk about a bomb-shell!
Meantime, other partners in Matt’s investment firm are also being targeted — some having already been blown to bits. Can this seemingly innocent man save himself, his children, and his marriage?
“Retribution” is based on the 2015 Spanish-French film “El Desconocido” (“The Stranger”). The story is as simple as it is messy. There are plot holes the size of SUVs, including one pretty early on. When Matt initially gets into the car and turns it on, multiple on-screen messages indicate there are major issues with every aspect of the vehicle. Everyone at the screening I attended had the same verbal groan along the lines of, “This isn’t good.” In real life, if that many alerts went off, I don’t think anyone would stay in their car another second, let alone let their kids ride in the back. But then, of course, we wouldn’t have a movie.
There are moments of “Retribution” that made me think of 2014’s “Locke” — the highly-compelling, 85-minute drama starring Tom Hardy. That film’s main (only) character drives a car from one location to another, contemplating the next steps of his life. 98% of “Locke” takes place inside the car. There’s more activity outside the primary vehicle in “Retribution”, though it’s primary focus is Neeson’s Matt trying to navigate an escalating situation.
“Retribution” start rough, gets into gear a bit in the middle chunk, but sputters badly in final half hour, with plenty of laughable moments. Matthew Modine and Embeth Davidtz lead the supporting cast. Young Jack Champion and Lilly Aspell, as Matt’s kids, give the most convincing performances. All attempts at meaningful commentary on greed, family and communication technology fail. And, in the end, the film’s title doesn’t even make sense.
This is a highly forgettable edition/addition in the “Liam Neeson Late Career Action Movie” lineup.
LCJ GRADE: D+
Running Time: 90 min.