The idea of watching Liam Neeson and Ed Harris square off as Irish mobsters on the streets of New York sounds great. Seeing these two grizzled, weathered actors try to out-thug each other should turn out to be a swell movie.
But because of extremely lazy and sloppy storytelling, it’s pretty easy to see where “Run All Night” is heading about ten minutes into the movie. The gangster movie cliches are lurking around every corner, waiting to pounce your ears with clunky dialogue and foreshadowing that is as subtle as a jackhammer.
Neeson’s Jimmy Conlon is a fall down drunk (again, Liam?) who was once a highly respected hit man for Ed Harris’ super rich mob boss, Shawn Maguire. Now, Jimmy is left to pass out on bar benches while his mates bust his chops for sleep-induced flatulence. The only use that Jimmy seems to have is to be intentionally embarrassed by Shawn’s son, Danny (Boyd Holbrook), who asks him to dress up as Santa for a ritzy Christmas party.
The marketing for “Run All Night” doesn’t hide the fact that via remarkable acts of coincidence, Jimmy ends up putting Danny six feet underground. This all involves Albanian criminals, drug deals gone wrong, and Jimmy’s estranged limo driver son, Mike (Joel Kinnaman).
While the action scenes make “Run All Night” work, almost every single word said in between is painful. Jimmy and Shawn talk about “being together until the end” repeatedly, essentially telling every audience member what is going to happen with these two. It also hurts that once Jimmy gets to Mike, his constant reminders that he doesn’t want his son to end up like him become tedious, thus losing the meaning.
Brad Ingelsby’s script wants you to connect with the relationships that all these characters have and the real complexity of the situation. Every single time that Jimmy stops Mike from doing something he’ll regret, he spells out exactly why he’s doing it. At some point, enough is enough and it’s time to let the actions speak for themselves.
The action in “Run All Night” is never dull. Not only does the movie show the parts of New York that are never shown on film, it’s all done in exceptional ways. A long car chase on narrow city streets is about as thrilling as your standard movie car chase can be. Jimmy’s brutally violent and in your face fist fight in a tiny subway restroom is equal parts jarring, bloody, and gross.
But the finest sequence in the entire movie involves another hit man, Price (Common), chasing Jimmy and Mike up and down an apartment building in the projects. This happens as police are surrounding the building and an apartment actually catches on fire, while Jimmy, Mike, and Price dangle and jump from balcony to balcony.
Most of this has become old hat for Neeson and director Jaume Collet-Serra, who are now on their third film collaboration. Collet-Serra has mastered the art of showing Neeson in the coolest possible way. His direction uses practical effects and the actors appear to be doing most of their own stunt work, which adds to the realism of “Run All Night”.
Harris’ appearance amounts to cameo status, as he appears in four or five scenes at most. Harris and Neeson are fantastic during a confrontational conversation at a restaurant, while on the other end of the spectrum, another scene with a talk about their past is convoluted and forced. Harris is a pro, rarely phoning in a role, which he does not do here even though the script screams for it.
Neeson is Neeson. He growls, cracks wise, and looks super cool with a cigarette dangling from his mouth as he fires away at all enemies with a seemingly endless supply of ammunition. The clock is ticking on long Neeson can keep it up as an action star, but there may be much more time on said clock than once believed.
Oddly enough, for a movie being sold as a nonstop action flick, “Run All Night” works best during the calm of the storm. Neeson and Kinnaman play off of each other with ease and they make the intolerable dialogue almost tolerable. There is only one scene with Vincent D’Onofrio’s homicide detective and Neeson’s Jimmy and it is the best writing in the entire movie, making you wish they had more screen time to share.
If not for the forced dialogue and an extremely ill-advised opening scene that pretty much tells everyone watching exactly how the movie will end, “Run All Night” is a decent gangster movie. It’s made better by the screen presence of the three leads Neeson, Harris, and Kinnaman. Hopefully, Collet-Serra gets his hands on a better script that isn’t loaded with obvious foreshadowing then gets Neeson involved again. These two definitely have a greater movie in them.
In stores Tuesday, June 16.