Combustible Celluloid
With: Liam Neeson, Aidan Quinn, Emmy Raver-Lampman, Taylor Johnson Smith, Yael Stone, Claire Van Der Boom, Gabriella Sengos, Andrew Shaw, Zac Lemons, Tim Draxl, Georgia Flood, Caroline Brazier, Mel Jarnson
Written by: Nick May, based on a story by Nick May, Brandon Reavis, Mark Williams
Directed by: Mark Williams
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for strong violence, action and language
Running Time: 108
Date: 02/11/2022

Blacklight (2022)

2 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Stumbling Block

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

There are hints that an earlier draft of the screenplay might once have had some cutting political commentary, the Liam Neeson action movie Blacklight has now been smoothed out so much as to become shopworn and generic.

Travis Block (Liam Neeson) is a special behind-the-scenes operative for the FBI, whose job is to protect undercover agents. He works directly for the bureau director, Gabriel Robinson (Aidan Quinn). After the mysterious death of a rising young progressive politician, agent Dusty Crane (Taylor John Smith) tries to go to the press, to tell the real story behind Robinson's activities, and Travis does his job and tries to stop him.

Dusty manages to speak briefly with reporter Mira Jones (Emmy Raver-Lampman) before he is mercilessly gunned down, right in front of Travis's eyes. Travis begins to realize that something is wrong, and when his daughter and granddaughter suddenly disappear, he teams up with Mira to find the truth.

Directed by Mark Williams, who also made the more fleet-footed Honest Thief with Neeson, Blacklight begins with two promising sequences. In one, Travis must rescue a female agent who has been stuck undercover in a community of racists; she has been found out, and an angry, gun-toting mob attempts to storm her trailer. She tearfully tells Travis that the pressure just got to her, and she slipped up. It would have been interesting to learn more about this story, but we never hear from her again.

Then, we are treated to a speech by progressive politician Sofia Flores (Mel Jarnson) shaming the wealthy for hoarding and urging health care for all. It's easy to guess that she's modeled after Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and that she's a threat to the establishment. Unfortunately, Sofia also disappears from the story quickly. When she does, Blacklight simply becomes a series of tense dialogue exchanges (much of it expositional), shootouts, and chases, none of which feels very inspired or exciting. The Mira character is a reporter that doesn't seem interested in investigating or checking facts; she only wants to write her big story because "it's obvious."

Even poor Neeson seems out of gas in this one. When he snarlingly warns the villain, "you're gonna need more men," it doesn't pack half the punch of his best action-hero line-deliveries. At the end, he's left to babysit his granddaughter, which might have made a more interesting movie than this one.

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