Blacklight movie review: turn it off

MaryAnn’s quick take: Feels less like a movie than it does a hostage video. Poor Liam Neeson isn’t trying to hide how exhausted and trapped he is in his cinematic hamster wheel of cheap, violent revenge thrillers. It’s sad.
I’m “biast” (pro): nothing
I’m “biast” (con): nothing
(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)
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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.

Blacklight Mel Jarnsen
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is living rent-free in someone’s head…

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.

Blacklight Gabriella Sengos Liam Neeson
“Don’t tell Mommy, but if you’re very good this year, Grandpa will get you your very own Glock for Christmas.”

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.


more films like this:
Cold Pursuit [Prime US | Prime UK | Apple TV]
The Commuter [Prime US | Prime UK | Apple TV]

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althea
althea
Thu, Feb 10, 2022 8:55pm

Wow. Scrolling down the email, saw the big red dot and dim picture that I thought, “isn’t that Liam Neeson?” – and then the headline, “Blacklight – Turn it Off”. And my first thought was, “Poor Liam Neeson! Not another one of these potboilers.” It really is sad.

amanohyo
amanohyo
reply to  althea
Sat, Feb 12, 2022 6:58pm

If he’s looking for work, I can tell you the studios don’t have variety, but what they do have are a very specific type of role; a role he has repeated over a very long career, a role that makes these movies deadly dull for people like you. If people stop finally stop watching them, that’ll be the end of it – the studios will not make more, these scripts won’t be greenlit, but if people continue to watch, the studios will call his agent, he will take the paycheck, and the film will not thrill you.

MaryAnn Johanson
reply to  amanohyo
Sun, Feb 13, 2022 1:55pm

Neeson is certainly doing a lot of these types of movies, but they’re not all of his work lately. Check him out in the wonderful Ordinary Love to see the other stuff.

amanohyo
amanohyo
reply to  MaryAnn Johanson
Sun, Feb 13, 2022 9:01pm

I liked his small part in Widows too, and Ordinary Love sounds interesting in your review, I’ll check it out. Thanks!