Another bit of 'Neesplotation' that's quite entertaining for a while, but Neeson's recent confessions of racist revenge fantasies in his youth also leave a bad taste
“When you drive the same road day after day, it’s easy to think about the road not taken. I try not to do that – I picked a good road,” says Liam Neeson at the start of Cold Pursuit, playing a snowplow driver who’s been named Citizen of the Year for his services to the fictional town of Kehoe, Colorado. The actor could be speaking of his own status as a one-man genre; since Taken in 2008, Neeson has settled into a groove with the revenge pictures known as ‘Neesploitation’ movies. When the kidnapping scene comes in this one, there’s barely any attempt to drum up a shift to suspense – we know the drill, and so, dutifully turning its gears, does the movie.
What makes Cold Pursuit interesting is that having established the framework for another Neeson smash-em-up of vigilante citizenship, it starts to fiddle at the sidelines with sly asides. Based on the Norwegian action-comedy In Order of Disappearance (also from director Hans Peter Molland), the film opens with an Oscar Wilde quote, has intertitles marking the names of the departed every time a character meets his maker, and has odd moments like a lingering shot of an outsized ham in Neeson’s fridge. Not unlike portrayals of gossiping stormtroopers in an Adult Swim cartoon, Cold Pursuit goes off in tangents to hint at the eccentric inner lives of henchmen and bit players. A cop is more interested in his partner getting back with her ex-boyfriend than solving the case, the villain is obsessed with health food and his son learning life lessons from Lord of the Flies, the hired muscle needs help with his fantasy football line-up and shows tenderness to his gay lover.
And so on and so forth, and it’s quite entertaining for a while, until the movie ultimately can’t sustain its 119-minute running time. Caught noncommittally between action and comedy, it goes from being a cheeky genre meditation to a bore, spinning its snow-capped wheels. It’s also hit the headlines for all the wrong reasons, with Liam Neeson finding himself in a firestorm of media controversy after confessing to paranoid thoughts of racist revenge when a friend was attacked by a black man several decades ago. The context makes one scene, which shoehorns Ebonics into a black hitman’s speech, even more awkward than it already is.
But mainly Cold Pursuit isn’t controversial – just overlong and not quite cute enough to go with it.
Cold Pursuit is released by Lionsgate