Despite all of the uncertainty in 2020 one thing is for sure. No crummy pandemic is going to keep us from getting our annual Liam Neeson shoot-em-up action thriller. While I always get a kick out these films on a very loosely entertaining level, this year’s Neeson escapism is more welcomed than usual. Not only does it give us something new to see on the big screen, but it comes at a time (especially here in the United States) where ‘escaping’ the divisive and vitriolic news cycles is something many of us can appreciate.
So does all of that mean Neeson’s latest “Honest Thief” is a great film? Well “great” is a bit of a stretch. But it is exactly the kind of movie you would expect it to be and it delivers precisely what it advertises. In many ways these Neeson films have become their own genre. Obviously some of them are better than others and this one lands solidly in the middle. Fans of the previous flicks will have fun with “Honest Thief” while those hungry for something fresh shouldn’t expect to find it here. Me? I had a good time with it, flaws and all.
The 68-year-old Neeson plays Tom, a former Marine (aren’t all of his characters ex-military of some kind) who has taken up robbing banks across the country. The FBI has tagged him the In-and-Out Bandit (a name Tom abhors), but he’s not one of those bad thieves. No, his safecracking and bomb-making talents are never used to hurt people (well, not physically). He sneaks into well-scouted banks during the dead of night, avoids the security systems, breaks into the vault, grabs the cash and skedaddles without a trace. Oh, and he hasn’t spent a dime of the $9 million he has stolen. See! A thief with principles!
But that’s not why the film is called “Honest Thief”. Tom moves to Boston and since you gotta store all that loot somewhere he rents a storage unit from a grad student and recent divorcee named Annie (Kate Walsh). The two share a flirty scene of not-so-convincing love at first sight and within moments we’re hit with the “One Year Later” card. Now the two are in a committed relationship even planning to move in together. Tom can’t stand the thought of keeping his big secret from Annie any longer. So he decides to come clean, first to the feds and then Annie. There’s your honest thief folks.
Tom calls the FBI, agreeing to confess and turn in the $9 million in exchange for a minimum sentence in a prison near Boston. FBI agents Nivens (Jai Courtney) and Hall (Anthony Ramos) are sent to check out his story but instead they steal the money for themselves and attempt to erase Tom from the equation. Things unravel and one dead agent later, Tom finds himself framed for the murder and on the run from the Bureau and from the two crooked G-men intent on covering their tracks. But once Nivens and Hall make Annie a target, let’s just say it may be time for Tom to pull out his “very particular set of skills“.
From there the movie becomes a cat-and-mouse game across Boston, complete with fisticuffs, shoot-outs and several entertaining chase sequences. Director and co-writer Mark Williams bumps things along at a snappy pace, creating a fair amount of tension and raising the stakes just enough to get by. Jeffrey Donovan is a nice presence playing an FBI agent who shares a mutual respect and a mutual distrust with Tom. And of course you have the rock-solid Neeson, a seasoned actor working in his comfort zone who by now can do these roles in his sleep.
There’s no denying that “Honest Thief” uses genre tropes galore. You see them in the characters, in plot points, even in some of the action. And while the romance at the film’s center is incredibly sweet, you can’t help feeling that much of what would have given it heft happened in that “one year later” window. Still, Neeson has once again delivered what his film promised – light, breezy entertainment for fans of these fun getaway thrillers. I completely understand if these films have ran their course for others. Me? I’m still enjoying the ride. “Honest Thief” is now showing in theaters.
VERDICT- 3.5 STARS