By Elias Savada.
Neeson does the job he’s paid to do, and his gruff role here hits the intended spots and one-liners… but Honest Thief gets too cute for its own unbelievable good.”
Want some generic escapist entertainment? All you have to do is catch the latest Liam Neeson framed-man escapade Honest Thief. It’s a brief sojourn into the mundane and simple world where Neeson’s Tom Carter is a small-time thief (12 bank, 7 states, over about 8 years, to be precise) who wants to quit the bank robbin’ business for love. Aw, ain’t that sweet.
As with many of Neeson’s more recent action films, someone thwarts his good intentions and it’s pay back time. Ever since the Irish-born actor played a retired CIA spy in Taken a dozen years ago, he’s a go-to guy for the angry, fierce (or at least very resourceful) hero, whether in all three films in the Taken trilogy, and a quartet of films directed by Jaume Collet-Serra: Unknown (2011), Non-Stop (2014), Run All Night (2015), and The Commuter (2018).
Tom a.k.a. “The In and Out Bandit,” has been operating in stealth mode, robbing banks efficiently without leaving a trace of evidence. Until what passes as a cute meet with Annie (Kate Walsh), a psych grad student moonlighting with a job at a storage unit facility. Within seconds (well, “a year later” in cinema time), he proposes they enjoy the rest of their days together. It’s a while later before she gets clued in on his minor criminal pastime. The one he is about to retire from.
Yet, one big problem (for the film) is that the crook hasn’t spent a dime of the $9 million he has stolen. Never invested a penny. Imagine if he had invested in Apple stock? Tom confides later, “It wasn’t about the money…. It just felt good.” Really? Instead the loot just sits, waiting for its 15 minutes of fame within the film’s 98-minute frame. What a waste. Like this film.
The problems start with the misguided script by Mark Williams and Steve Allrich, and worsens with the pedestrian direction from Williams, a sophomore feature effort after 2016’s A Family Man, a dreary Gerard Butler dramatic vehicle never released theatrically in the U.S. and barely reaching $2.5 million worldwide. Although he did create, with Bill Dubuque (who wrote A Family Man) the wildly enjoyable Netflix series Ozark, Williams might consider returning to his day job, as a film producer. Leave the direction and writing to the folks who do it better.
With the FBI has been getting pounded from the Commander in Chief in real life, that agency (at least its Boston field office) portrayed here ends up employing a few bad apples in the film, one that is especially rotten to the core. For Tom, who wants to barter a deal for a lighter sentence after returning all the stolen money, it’s ends up being not so fast, buddy. We’ve gotta get some punches thrown. Agents Nivens (Jai Courtney) and Hall (Anthony Ramos) are those bad eggs wearing shining government badges. Nivens runs darker – with lots of snarls and a very itchy trigger finger – than his meeker, family-man partner. Hall is forced to spend long, agonizing days wondering WTF is happening through all of the ever-worsening plot – and film. Those government underlings report to Agent Meyers (Jeffrey Donovan) and Baker (Robert Patrick). One doesn’t make it past the first few innings, the other gets to throw the closing pitch. Passable performances in easily interchangeable roles.
As for Neeson, he does the job he’s paid to do, and his gruff role here hits the intended spots and one-liners (“Agent Nivens…I’m coming for you!”). Nothing new here, but if you want your all-purpose thrills, you might find a few, especially in the film’s weary third act. After all, Tom was in the Marines and a demolitions expert, like MacGyver. Must be Annie’s favorite show! Color her impressed. And the predicted ending, naturally, is ever so cockily filled with (sweet) revenge.
We get a sprinkle of some pedestrian car chases, feeble gun play, some 2018 Worcester, Massachusetts street scenery, but Honest Thief gets too cute for its own unbelievable good. Aside from keeping his criminal past from Annie, Tom’s also kept a secret about her cookies and choice of paint colors for the house they hope to buy in Newton. Yeah, too cute.
Elias Savada is a movie copyright researcher, critic, craft beer geek, and avid genealogist based in Bethesda, Maryland. He helps program the Spooky Movie International Movie Film Festival, and previously reviewed for Film Threat and Nitrate Online. He is an executive producer of the horror film German Angst and the new documentary Nuts! He co-authored, with David J. Skal, Dark Carnival: the Secret World of Tod Browning (a revised edition will be published by Centipede Press).