Even the credit sequence is designed to look ‘old-school’ in writer/director Scott Frank’s self-conscious adaptation of Lawrence Block’s gloomy private eye novel; call it ‘downer noir.’ Set in 1999, but cinematically retro-styled to the mid-‘80s, it’s pretty effective on its limited terms. Too bad it got positioned as the latest Liam Neeson action/revenge thriller, disappointing his fans with something more in the vein of a Bob Mitchum world-weary crime yarn.* The main hook to the thing finds a pair of psychopathic torturers kidnapping women linked to drug sellers. Flush with reserves of illegal cash and eager to keep cops out of the loop, these dealers make easy marks. That’s where Neeson’s Matthew Scudder comes in, ex-cop/unlicensed P.I., he’s a perfect fit to investigate. There’s lots of compromised characters everywhere you look, on both sides of the law, and cleanly run set pieces to make up for occasional narrative confusion. Neeson even picks up a sharp black kid (Brain ‘Astro’ Bradley) as sidekick & surrogate son. Street-smart/computer savvy, he also functions as a nod toward progressive ‘80s racial stereotypes. Near the end, the film has some trouble calling it a day with one too many gruesome twists before wrapping up. (Is it in the book?) But don’t let that put you off.
DOUBLE-BILL: *Mitchum’s first shot at Philip Marlowe in FAREWELL, MY LOVELY/’75 comes off much better than his second, THE BIG SLEEP/’78. OR: Try his Asian noir, THE YAKUZA/'74.
SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: Twenty-one producers on this film, but none able to keep the ad campaign honest.