“You hurt my daughter, you son of a bitch. I will kill you,” growls Liam Neeson in the button line of the just-released trailer for Lionsgate’s Retribution.
It’s a line that would seem to apply equally to at least ten other Liam Neeson films, as would the title, “Retribution.” Liam Neeson has had an interesting career, coming to prominence with well-received turns in artier, awards fare like Nell and Schindler’s List, the latter for which he was nominated for both an Oscar and a BAFTA. He still has broad range as an actor, capable of everything from comedy (see: his brilliant cameo on Extras) to farcical drama (The Ballad Of Buster Scruggs), but since Taken in 2008, Neeson has become known almost exclusively for playing vigilante dads in utilitarian shoot-em-ups, even though, at 71, he’s well past grandfather age.
That Neeson has become a genre unto himself has already been immortalized in a series of Key & Peele sketches (“you see Liam Neesons fight them wolves??”), and the fact that the sketches aired almost a decade ago now hasn’t stopped the film industry from producing even more “Liam Neesons” movies, which are both surprisingly numerous and shockingly uniform. The stock Liam Neeson actioner has a poster showing Liam Neeson holding a pistol and a European director who cut his teeth making music videos, a la Olivier Megaton or Jaume Collet-Serra.
Retribution seems to represent a twist on the genre, albeit an ever-so-slight one. It was directed by Hungarian Film Academy graduate Nimród Antal and features Neeson’s character going Rambo mode over his daughter, but seems to focus more on cars than on guns. Per the official synopsis:
“When a mysterious caller puts a bomb under his car seat, Matt Turner (Neeson) begins a high-speed chase across the city to complete a specific series of tasks. With his kids trapped in the back seat and a bomb that will explode if they get out of the car, a normal commute becomes a twisted game of life or death as Matt follows the stranger’s increasingly dangerous instructions in a race against time to save his family.”
That makes Retribution feel a bit more like a riff on Speed or Die Hard With A Vengeance than on Taken, which is probably for the best, as watching Neeson growl threats never seems to get old, whereas watching him do chop-socky stunts and pseudo parkour feels sillier with each passing year (see: the much-mocked fence jump sequence from Taken 3).
That Nimród Antal is directing is more reason to be optimistic that Retribution could be a winning riff on the formula rather than a cynical regurgitation of it. Antal broke onto the scene with a brilliant thriller set in the Budapest Metro system, Kontroll, in 2003, which went onto become Hungary’s submission for the Academy Awards that year. He also directed 2010’s Predators, starring Adrien Brody, a lean, underrated (if IP-driven) action sci-fi that’s arguably still the second-best Predator movie to date.
We’ll find out when Retribution hits theaters August 25th. At the very least, it clocks in at a tight 90 minutes, meaning even if it isn’t very good it probably won’t be hard to sit through.