Blacklight feels less like a movie than it does a hostage video. The tables have turned, and now it’s Liam Neeson himself who needs someone to rescue him… from the cinematic hamster wheel of violent revenge thrillers he can’t seem to get off of. You don’t even have to translate his eye blinks into Morse code or anything. The poor man isn’t trying to hide how exhausted and trapped he is. It’s sad.
This time around, Neeson (Ordinary Love, Men in Black: International) is Travis Block, a “fixer” who works for a shadowy FBI program that brings back deep-cover agents when they get too caught up in their assignments. That’s a potentially intriguing concept, so the movie procedes to almost completely ignore it. Instead, it pivots to a completely different shadowy FBI program that is doing extremely nefarious things that are even more extralegal than what Block is up to. This is illustrated in the opening sequence in which a blatantly obvious stand-in for US congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a wannabe US congresswoman called Sofia Flores (Mel Jarnson), is treated in a way that is meant to be indicative of the lengths to which America’s wealthy white male powers-that-be will go to prevent ordinary Americans from having nice things like racial equality and affordable health care. In actuality, though, this sequence is a cheap, lazy plot device with misogynist and classist overtones that the film appears to believe it has given itself plausible deniability about. It has not.
Making his screenwriting debut here is Nick May, a former US Department of Justice attorney during the Obama administration. Take from that what you will.
Anyway, this program is what Block will eventually try to put a stop to. Cruelly, however — for Neeson and for us — before he can even get around to discovering what’s really going on, he tries to quit this FBI stuff, which has made him an OCD paranoiac, because he wants to spend more time with his daughter (Claire van der Boom) and cute little granddaughter (Gabriella Sengos). His resignation is denied. That his boss, the head of the FBI (Aidan Quinn: Jonah Hex, Nine Lives), refuses to let Block go feels like a smack at the actor himself. Can’t you all see how done he is with this crap? We could have all been saved from this movie.
Calling Blacklight a thriller — as I accidentally did above — is a stretch. It’s all tedious infodumps that in less cheap movies would have been fully fleshed-out flashbacks, plus rote gun battles and car chases through the Australian city of *checks notes* Canberra, bizarrely and inexpertly standing in for Washington DC, which it does not resemble in the least. Parts of the movie come across as unintentional parody, as when Block gives the granddaughter, who’s maybe six, a taser as a birthday present. Parts of it feel like they’re papering over stuff that simply could not be dramatized because of pandemic restrictions, as when Block sits with a journalist (Emmy Raver-Lampman, the only one in the whole cast who comes alive) in a nearly empty bar and… just… spills all his secret-government-ops beans to her.
The entire movie feels strangely deserted — physically, culturally, politically, psychologically — which only adds to the overall sense of its naive simpleness. Even its cynicism comes across as shallow. Blacklight wants us to buy deep-rooted conspiracies but can’t even make us believe what it puts right in front of our eyes.