Liam Neeson was seeking to address the revenge plot of his latest movie, "Cold Pursuit," when he inexplicably waded into controversy with remarks about past racist thoughts. That only makes the fact that the film itself is pretty awful all the more unfortunate.
Adapted from a 2014 Norwegian movie by its original director, Hans Petter Moland, "Cold Pursuit" would outwardly seem to dovetail with Neeson's string of vehicles as an action star, starting with the popular and spare "Taken" series.
The new film, however, seeks to adopt a more "Fargo"-like tone, mixing dark comedy into the formula in an awkward, tonally inconsistent way. The result is a story still filled with lots of grisly violence, but which seeks to juxtapose that with strange little character beats and quirky exchanges of dialogue.
Whether that worked in the original, something appears to have been seriously lost in translation.
Neeson plays Nels Coxman, an upstanding citizen (he's shown being honored by the city when the movie begins) and family man who drives a giant snow plow, clearing roads in the ski community of Kehoe outside of Denver.
His grown son is killed in the early going, by members of a drug-smuggling operation who wrongly belief he has betrayed them. Convinced his kid wasn't a "druggie," as he puts it when told the cause of death was a heroin overdose, Nels goes on a quest to find out what really happened, gradually eliminating members of the gang in pursuit of learning who's ultimately responsible.
That would be the drug lord known as Viking (Tom Bateman), who lives a privileged existence and is caught in the middle of a custody battle with his ex-wife over their young son. But Viking misreads what's transpiring, thus triggering an all-out war with a rival band of Native-American drug dealers -- a development that provides an excuse for lots of racist-sounding insults from the bad guys, while padding the movie's formidable body count.
"Cold Pursuit" does incorporate modest little character tics and twists, and borders on being interesting when frittering around the fact that killing somebody isn't always as simple as they make it look in the movies.
Neeson also gets to play a relatively ordinary guy -- one who occasionally exhibits signs of his age -- although that doesn't significantly interfere with how effective he is at his new pastime, which prompts friction with his wife. She's played by Laura Dern, who's utterly wasted here, as are Emmy Rossum and John Doman as a pair of local cops unaccustomed to seeing a lot of homicide cases.
Again, there's a certain bleakness to Scandinavian cinema that has produced some terrific movies and TV shows (particularly in the noir-ish crime vein), but those elements seldom work as well when reconstituted for U.S. consumption.
"Cold Pursuit" falls squarely into that basket, yielding a wholly forgettable movie, most likely to be remembered, lamentably, for its contributing role in Neeson landing in hot water.
"Cold Pursuit" premieres Feb. 8 in the US. It's rated R.