Retribution Review

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Planes, trains, and automobiles: Can Liam Neeson commandeer any form of transport for yet another one of his elderly butt-whooping episodes? Even the snowplow does not go unscathed from his unique set of skills. Retribution is a slim movie that thankfully doesn’t overdo it but still has all the suspense elements expected post-Taken. In this film, he drives around in a Mercedes and loses his control if he proceeds this way soon he will be threatening with legal actions through putting together pieces of a jigsaw puzzle using a golf cart.

In Retribution, Neeson plays Matt Turner, an American hedge-fund guy in Berlin who ends up on hold. He has to keep driving at 50 mph or else there’s a bomb located under his seat which will blow up when he tries to get out. His kids Jack Champion (a moody teenager fresh from James Cameron’s Pandora but noticeably older) and Lilly Aspell (a button-cute grade-schooler) are sitting behind him. In fact, the whole thing is being orchestrated by someone on the other end of the line who cleverly disguises both their voice and intentions. Basically Matt is so engrossed in his job that he doesn’t notice what is going on around him including stuff happening with children: we see him beating up someone who was perhaps giving him redundant advice.

As with Memory and Cold Pursuit before it, Retribution reconfigures a European B-movie – here the Spanish thriller of 2015 with the same title – into slightly haunted urgency that ties nearly every single entry in Neeson’s continuing multi-million-dollar franchise as an aging action hero inextricably together. Nimród Antal directs while seated behind the wheel; this guy may be no-frills genre journeyman who once made such energetic pulp-junk as Vacancy as well as Armored and the underrated Predators. He is a good fit for the real-time, single-vehicle set-up of this film that mostly involves Neeson looking worriedly at his rearview mirror often and – whispering tensely on his cellphone, which he does very well. Whereas Arnold had his one-liners, Neeson owned the telephone.

The basic premise recalls Speed, minus both the nonstop excitement and the logistical consistency. But while that ‘90s popcorn classic followed the blueprint of a lunatic bomber as a means to more complications, Retribution conveniently disregards its villain’s rule throughout. Do kids also have gadgets? Is it okay for Matt to contact police or not? Why would any self-respecting bad guy let hero go unpunished by not picking his calls for minutes? The tension reaches fever pitch early in relation to Neeson trying to grab his kids’ smartphones from them – what an uphill battle! – none of whom knows about their predicament as hostages.

Matt seems doomed; he is paying for his past recklessness we think. However who’s behind him on the phone passing such judgment? The answer here isn’t quite satisfying either but then again if you have been paying attention to matters concerning casting and blocking it shouldn’t be surprising. Retribution isn’t a brave enough thriller where our protagonist finally becomes his own victim with even accepting some responsibility. His biggest vice is being…an unreliable father. Expecting him to make amends during the closing credits anyone? Even its title, a generic misnomer, belies it’s misleading narrative thread.

Neeson’s burnished dignity keeps things together, only just. For as many times as he finds himself acting with a rectangular box held up against his ear, these late-career paycheck gigs aren’t really phoned in by him. Retribution’s quick 90 minutes are easily passed by the close-up on his tightening face taken through a windshield or reflected in a mirror. Nonetheless, this is an opportunity missed for any real danger or any feeling that Matt might drop the ball or moreover the bomb might actually explode. The thrills are set to cruise control and all that notwithstanding Neeson never is.


Liam Neeson’s latest aging-action-star vehicle is the quintessential January movie opening in August remaking a 2015 Spanish thriller into some kind of low-rent Speed with the actor playing hedge-fund guru locked into his Mercedes by someone planting car bombs on the other end of the phone line. As usual, Neeson handles himself well enough and director Nimród Antal gets enough no-frills competence to execute what is practically a real-time setup. But it’s weird how few thrills and complications there are in relation to its being about saving kids and oneself from an explosive car at any minute.

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