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Cold Pursuit Movie Review

Ice Road Sucker

It all started in 2008 when someone dared to kidnap Liam Neeson's daughter in "Taken," which birthed two lousy sequels and an entire third-act career for the star. The "Liam Neeson revenge picture" has become a sub-genre of its own and he's back with "Cold Pursuit," a movie where he is desperately seeking...revenge. Go figure.

Director Hans Petter Moland adapts his 2014 Norwegian film "In Order of Disappearance" into the Americanized "Cold Pursuit," where Neeson plays Nels Coxman, a snowplow driver in Colorado, who is always in charge of clearing the main road when there is too much snow for anyone to pass through. He lives in a remote area with his wife Grace (Laura Dern, wasted in a brief and empty role) and son Kyle (Micheál Richardson, Neeson's real-life son).

Kyle gets mixed up with a crowd of criminals, who inject him with a lethal dose of heroin, which makes it look like an overdose and not a murder. When Nels and Grace go to the morgue to identify the body, Nels insists his son couldn't have died of an overdose because he didn't have a drug problem. The medical personnel shrug him off because they hear every parent say that but Nels knows the truth and it's time to kill anyone who may have had a hand in Kyle's death.

Nels' ultimate target is Viking (Tom Bateman, "Murder on the Orient Express," playing a cartoonish bad guy), who runs a major drug operation in Denver. He is in the middle of a custody battle with his ex-wife (Julia Jones, "Wind River") as he is trying to keep his business in order. Viking is one of those movie villains who live entirely in a three-piece suit and refuse to get messy if they don't have to (see also: Hans Gruber). He will put a bullet in someone's head but with a snap of his fingers; one of his henchmen will take care of the rest.

"Cold Pursuit" arguably spends more time with Viking's storyline than it does with Nels', introducing a rival crime family of Native Americans. Neeson disappears for large portions of the movie, which is problematic when you are going to a movie to watch him exact revenge on those who wronged him. The script, adapted by Frank Baldwin, really sets up three different stories and when they intersect it feels inevitable, rather than organic. This creates an uneven viewing experience - and pacing is never an issue in these types of movies.

The movie certainly tries to be different from "Taken" or "The Commuter" by interjecting an undercurrent of dark humor throughout the kills and face-offs. Some shots are held much longer than necessary, and it feels like a confused way to wring a laugh out of a serious moment (particularly an early one in the morgue). Dark humor, done well, can be biting and daring, but it feels contrived in "Cold Pursuit," like Moland was playing a desperate game of Coen Bros. Bingo. The final shot hammers that home.

Neeson, somehow, has made these movies work, to varying degrees and in different locations or modes of transportation, but "Cold Pursuit" strays too far from the successful formula. It's always commendable to do something different, but the distinct lack of focus and momentum makes "Cold Pursuit" tedious more than anything.



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