Ever since he hunted down the men who kidnapped his daughter in Taken, Liam Neeson has successfully pivoted into a legitimate action star. Whether its fighting against wolves in The Grey or finding a mysterious killer on a train in The Commuter, Neeson brings his signature calm, yet intimidating presence to great effect. While his latest and perhaps most unique effort yet Cold Pursuit, is an admirably unique detour into dark comedy, it doesn’t quite work as well as it should.
Cold Pursuit’s set-up would have audiences believe this is typical Neeson fare. As a remake of In Order of Disappearance, the film follows Nels Coxman (no, seriously that’s his name), a good-hearted man whose life is flipped upside down when his son is murdered as part of a gang crime. After stumbling upon a witness, Nels decides to embrace some old-fashion revenge, taking out one henchman after another until he can get to the crime boss “Viking”.
Instead of being a generic shoot em’ up, Cold Pursuit tries to tackle its revenge-laden story with equal measures of humor and humanity. The end result sadly feels more like a half-baked Cohen Brothers movie, failing to walk the film’s tricky tonal tightrope.
It’s a shame the film doesn’t quite work, because the groundwork is there for a great movie. Director Hans Petter Moland (who directed the original) tackles the action subgenera from an interesting perspective. Instead of focusing on death and bloodshed, Cold Pursuit instead looks at the fleeting moments before death comes knocking. Moland’s concept is ripe for comedic and dramatic possibilities, and when the film is able to capitalize, its a joy to watch.
Bringing a lot of life into the proceedings is the cast. Amidst all the controversy, Liam Neeson is still as sturdy as ever in the film. He embraces the tone of the premise, dropping his stoic super spy persona for something more relatable. Neeson’s movie star talents and charm are on full display throughout as he clearly relishes playing against type. Tom Bateman makes for a wickedly bratty villain, with his constant diatribes about his son’s diet and business being quite funny to watch. Everyone in the supporting cast is solid, with the actors being self-aware without ever letting in on the joke.
Something from the original to this reboot is lost in translation however. Frank Baldwin’s first feature-length script fails to do the initial-idea justice. The concept of finding the humor in death has an instant absurdity to it, but the script often doesn’t push that far enough. Many of the jokes throughout fail to truly register, either suffering from being too simplistic or repetitive. Baldwin is never able to balance the comedic aspects of the film with its quieter personal moments, with the two ideas never meshing as they should.
Baldwin’s script also fails to add very much meat onto the bone. The film often feels like its reaching for greater subtext, though its reach far exceeds the film’s grasp. Much of the second half because of this suffers significantly, failing to give its central story or characters much agency as it meanders from moment to moment till it reaches its long-awaited conclusion. Cold Pursuit gets points for its ambition and originality, but can’t land many when it comes to its execution.