DIRECTOR: Mark Williams

CAST: Liam Neeson, Emmy Raver-Lampman, Taylor John Smith, Aidan Quinn, Claire van der Boom, Yael Stone, Tim Draxl, Georgia Flood, Melanie Jarnson, Andrew Shaw, Zac Lemons, Gabriella Sengos

RUNNING TIME: 104 mins

CERTIFICATE: 15

BASICALLY…: A government agent (Neeson) discovers a corrupt plot to target innocent civilians…

NOW FOR THE REVIEW…

It’s hard to get excited about a Liam Neeson movie nowadays, largely because many of them look and feel the exact same, but I was rather looking forward to seeing Blacklight – for all of the wrong reasons. Upon its theatrical debut in the States earlier this year, the movie initially received a Rotten Tomatoes grade that was in the single digits (and currently remains at 8% as of this review), a career low for not only Neeson, but director, producer and occasional Ozark co-creator Mark Williams, who previously worked with the actor on 2020’s not-great-but-also-not-awful Honest Thief. Of course, with that kind of negative buzz, fuelled by almost every critic in the land hating on it, I was rather curious to see it for myself, and now the opportunity has arisen thanks to its straight-to-streaming release here in the UK.

First thing’s first: Blacklight is a pretty bad movie. Honestly, after everything I had heard and read about it, that wasn’t so shocking to find out. What was shocking, however, was how hilariously it fumbles its timely political message within a barrage of action movie conventions, poor dialogue, wooden acting, and editing which – had I not seen The Nan Movie one week prior – would rank among some of the worst I’ve yet seen all year.

In the film, Neeson plays Travis Block, who’s a government agent – because that’s half of Neeson’s roles nowadays – that works off the books for FBI director Robinson (Aidan Quinn) to do some of his dirtier tasks, such as extract undercover agents after their cover is blown. One of his latest assignments is to mind unstable agent Dusty Crane (Taylor John Smith), who is racked with guilt over an apparent plot initiated by Robinson and the FBI to murder innocent civilians, and is preparing to approach journalist Mira (Emmy Raver-Lampman) to spill the beans. Block catches wind of the nefarious plot, and seeks to put a stop to Robinson’s evildoings, while simultaneously protecting his family – because, again, it wouldn’t be a Neeson movie without a family being threatened.

It’s a movie that makes its political allegiances known very early on, lionising the AOC-esque left-wing politicians while vilifying the more conservative ones that complain about political correctness and, in one exceptionally piece of on-the-nose dialogue, how the country nowadays is run by Twitter. Even as someone who identifies as being more left than right, I was left speechless by how stupidly it tries to play into left-wing conspiracy theories that offer no counterpoints and presents things more black-and-white than a panda convention. Things do make slightly more sense – which is saying something, for a movie that otherwise makes no sense whatsoever – when you learn that the film’s co-writer, Nick May, previously served in the US Department of Justice as an attorney during the Obama administration (and even sued Williams at one point for wrongfully claiming sole screenplay credit), and clearly has a number of years’ worth of soapbox material backed up in his head that’s ready to fuel far-left agendas with self-righteous nonsense.

Unsurprisingly, this is also May’s first screenplay credit, and judging by how horribly written the movie is, you can tell that this was the work of a novice screenwriter. Beyond the extremist hogwash that characters constantly spew out (self-identified liberal characters such as Emmy Raver-Lampman’s reporter character are entirely defined by buzzword-filled lines that no actor could deliver without bursting into laughter), the movie takes every action movie trope in the book and plays all of them with the straightest of faces. From the secret government conspiracies to the gruff government agent who wants out of his dangerous life so he can look after his family, no cliché is left unturned, with even Neeson looking bored as he grunts his way through one haphazardly shot chase sequence after another. Fair play to the actor, though, for he deserves a medal for out-acting some of his terrible co-stars with the simplest of breaths; Claire van der Boom, who plays Neeson’s daughter in the film, monotonously delivers lines like she’s just been fed them through an earpiece, and whoever told young actress Gabriella Sengos (as Neeson’s granddaughter) to act like the rejected child from a Full House knockoff should reconsider their own vision of cloying child characters, as should May for writing lines of dialogue that, again, not even a child can make sound believable.

The painful list of faults extends to the inept filmmaking that Williams plagues his movie with. The director brings no sense of urgency to this very small-scale movie, with even the inevitable taking of Neeson’s family (because, once more, the Neeson wheel must keep turning) treated as more of an afterthought. On top of that, his action scenes are largely made up of fast cuts that leave the viewer barely able to keep track of what’s going on, in an attempt to mask that nothing significant is actually happening; marvel, for instance, at an opening fast-paced scene wherein Neeson keeps adjusting his rear-view mirror, and that’s it. There is a reason that Neeson does this, by the way: his character is revealed to have some kind of OCD, which apparently causes flashes in his mind; that would be okay if it weren’t for the fact that, for whatever reason, this is also incorporated into the editing, which just looks like somebody poured cola all over the editing bay, and these are the glitching remains. It’s the kind of terrible filmmaking that is normally reserved for a direct-to-DVD Bruce Willis movie, not something that is meant for cinemas and with a much more reliable A-lister in the lead (although, since Blacklight wasn’t a theatrical release here in the UK, one can only imagine that it’s worse to sit through in the cinema).

So yes, Blacklight is every bit as terrible as the world has made it out to be. Terribly made, and even more horribly written, it’s a hilariously cringe-worthy dive into left-baiting conspiracies that, no matter what side of the aisle you fall on, makes for a rather awful movie to behold.

SO, TO SUM UP…

Blacklight is a resoundingly awful political thriller that leans so heavily into black-and-white depictions of politics on either side that it looks foolish as it’s saying nothing, with not even Liam Neeson being able to save this ineptly made, badly acted and horribly written disaster from its own, dunderheaded misguidance.

Blacklight is now available to stream on Sky Cinema and NOW TV.

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