In 2008, Liam Neeson had one of the best late career surges of any actor in Hollywood. At 56 years old, Neeson had starred in his most physical role in quite some time as ex CIA agent Bryan Mills rescuing his daughter from human traffickers in the first “Taken” film. Here he is twelve years later and still emerging as our generation’s answer to Charles Bronson.
Neeson’s newest is one of the first films to ignore that Covid was a thing and stuck it’s ground to opening in theaters at the height of the escalating Covid numbers. “Honest Thief” is the film and I’ll be honest. It’s a horrible title. But I guess it’s better than naming it after his character “The In and Out Bandit”. In the movie Liam Neeson’s Tom Carter is a world famous bank robber and has been given that name by the FBI. Why the “clever” name? Well that’s because when he hits a bank in the dead of night and cleans out the safe, he’s in and out, just like that! But blame the screenwriters who felt it made for good laughs as a running joke in the movie. Instead it just gives cringes over it’s intended laughs as Neeson expresses in how he hates the name and why they couldn’t pick something more sophisticated?
Neeson’s Tom is a former Navy demolitions expert with a particular set of skills (sorry. I couldn’t resist) who for the better part of a decade has been pulling off a series of seamlessly executed bank robberies. But now he calls the FBI, identifies himself as the In and Out Bandit and says, “I’ve robbed 12 banks in seven states, in eight years and I have $9 million”. He wants to turn over the cash that he hasn’t spent a dime of and his explanation of why he robs banks is absolutely ludicrous and is explained in the second act. But Tom wants to surrender, in exchange for a lenient sentence. Because Tom has fallen in love with Kate Walsh’s Annie and he’d like to come clean, do his time, have a fresh start in life and not always be looking over his shoulder, waiting for the feds to swoop in.
Tom meets with FBI agents Nevins (Jai Courtney) and Hall (Anthony Ramos) to turn himself in and hand over the cash. But of course things don’t go as smoothly as Tom hopes, because these guys are you guessed it. Corrupt! (Ba dah bum). Nevins in particular is a homicidal maniac and next thing you know, a murder is afoot, just as Tom and Nevins begin their cat and mouse chase.
Liam Neeson and Kate Walsh are lovely together; it’s nice to see such a crazy for you romance between two characters who are over 50. Walsh’s Annie is offered some personal time, using her education to connect with Tom during the films on going chase. It’s these little moments of humanity that help “Honest Thief” in giving it some texture, while Tom is imagined as a kindly ex-Marine who’s had enough financial injustice. It inspires him to even the score without spending the stolen cash, which may make him a bit too noble, but Neeson knows how to play these scenes sympathetically.
Reliable character actor Jeffrey Donovan (“Burn Notice”) is terrific as Agent Meyers, a good guy FederaI agent who carries around a dog with him because that’s the only thing he got in a recent divorce settlement. I highly doubt FBI agents bring pups to work or have ride alongs with them, but it’s just a movie right? So there you have it. Jai Courtney (“A Good Day To Die Hard”) and Anthony Ramos (of “A Star Is Born” and “Hamilton”) are just as bland as Liam Neeson’s Tom. Never for one second are the two a believable threat to Neeson. Although Jeffrey Donovan would have been better cast as the baddie.
For an action thriller, there are no real thrills and the action is network TV safe, leaving little carnage and a final action scene that is anti-climatic. This is not “Taken”, even if a sequence tries to call back to his “Taken” speech of “I will find you and I will kill you” for a simple growl of “I’m coming for you”. Neeson’s “Honest Thief” doesn’t create any particularly memorable set pieces or rival his best work as a senior action man in “Taken”, “Non Stop”, “The Commuter” or “Unkown”. Neeson can sleep walk through roles like this and “Honest Thief” just turns out to be an easy payday for the star.
It’s even more mind boggling that “Honest Thief” is written and directed by Mark Williams. The co-writer and director of Netflix’s dark and gritty crime series “Ozark”. The Jason Bateman series is one of the best shows on tv and has writing at it’s highest caliber. While Williams can get high drama out of stories of “Ozark’s” white collar criminals, that’s all abandoned here in favor of giving Neeson a very thin and bland character to play. There is no twist or no turns and nothing original in “Honest Thief”. Everything you see in the trailer is what you get on screen, stretched out and dragged into an hour and forty minute feature.
But this is one of those second-rate action movies where smart people keep doing dumb things just to keep the plot going. Instead of going through all this trouble, the In and Out Bandit should have anonymously donated the cash to charity and disappeared into the night with Annie. But if he did that or it were that simple, we wouldn’t have been blessed (or cursed) with this time waster. And god knows that 2020 wasn’t already bad enough, that it had to give us one last bah humbug of the year, in this unnecessary actioner. Hey….I’m just being an honest critic.
GRADE: ★1/2☆☆☆☆ (1.5 out of 5)