PLOT: After a decade of robbing banks, the infamous “in and out bandit”, Tom Carter (Liam Neeson) is ready to turn himself in to the FBI, in the hopes of getting a reduced sentence so he can spend the rest of his life with his new girlfriend, Annie (Kate Walsh). However, two crooked agents (Jai Courtney & Anthony Ramos) have other plans for the $9 million he wants to turn in, framing him for the murder of their superior. But, as the tag line says, “never steal a man’s second chance.”
REVIEW: Who would have ever thought fifteen or so years ago that Liam Neeson would emerge as our generation’s answer to Charles Bronson. Despite now technically being a senior citizen, Neeson can still kick ass with the best of them, even if it can’t be denied that the quality of his films has been on a steady decline as of late (I’d wager A WALK AMONG THE TOMBSTONES was his last good really action film). HONEST THIEF is an attempt to make a more character-driven, romantic Neeson thriller, but it falls short mainly because it constantly retreads familiar territory without adding anything new.
By this point, Neeson could play a role like Tom Carter in his sleep, and it’s a credit to him that he seems engaged, even if the character is dull. Playing an ex-marine turned bank robber, Neeson is never really convincing as a former criminal. He seems way too upstanding. We’re supposed to believe that he’s held on to every penny he’s ever stolen, but why be a thief then? What did he live on? Did he have a cover? In his show “Ozark”, co-writer/director Mark Williams gets high drama out of the cover stories of white-collar criminals, but that’s all abandoned here in the favor of giving Neeson a very thinly sketched character to play.
At least HONEST THIEF has a decent supporting cast, with Kate Walsh likable as the woman Neeson’s willing to give up $9 million for, even if one can’t help but think that if he came clean to her, she would be fine with him hanging on to his ill-gotten gains (hey – he learned his lesson and no one got hurt!). Jeffrey Donovan has a nice part of the lone honest FBI agent on Neeson’s trail – we know he’s a good guy because he’s saddled with a cute dog for much of the running time. However, he probably would have been better cast as the baddie, with Jai Courtney and Anthony Ramos (of HAMILTON) bland as the bad boy FBI agents that want his money. Never for one second do you believe they’re a credible threat to Neeson.
The biggest problem with HONEST THIEF is that, for an action thriller, there are no real thrills and the action is network TV level at best. Neeson gets a few tiny hand-to-hand scraps, and there’s a familiar car chase, but otherwise, there’s curiously little carnage. The final action scene is anti-climatic at best, making me think that this was initially intended as a straight drama, with some action shoe-horned into the plot to make it more of a typical Neeson outing. It’s not TAKEN, even if a part when he threatens Courtney on the phone is a deliberate call back to what’s become his signature role.
Given all that’s going on through, HONEST THIEF is likely the biggest movie we’ll be getting in theatres for some time, so if you live in an area where they’re open I suppose HONEST THIEF is an OK time-waster. I can’t help but think that in a more competitive market this might have gone straight to VOD – which is really where it belongs. Neeson is capable of much better – and here’s hoping the quality of his action vehicles are taken up a notch or two.