Cold Pursuit (NC16)
Starring Liam Neeson, Laura Dern, Emmy Rossum
Directed by Hans Petter Moland
Man, can you get a movie with a more bizarre sense of timing than this?
You have Liam Neeson shocking everybody recently with his confessional interview about wanting to beat up a random black man in racist revenge decades ago after a close friend of his claimed that she was raped by one. Now, Cold Pursuit — in which he plays a vengeful man on a killing rampage — looks decidedly racist too.
Just substitute black folks for Native Americans here as this plot spirals into a nutty, irrelevant war between white gangsters and a Red Indian drug gang.
Right at the start of this deal — an uneven, unfunny flick that thinks it's quirky and funny — Neeson says: “I'm just a guy who keeps strips of civilisation open to the people.” I tell you, I burst out laughing.
He's referring to his job in the show as he plays Nels Coxman, a snowplough driver in the snow-covered ski-resort town of Kehoe, Colorado, who clears the super-thick snow for motorists to drive through. I'm talking about snow so thick and high even yetis (aka abominable snowmen) would need his snow-clearing vehicle. Although this dude could be riding a trishaw in a blizzard and it still would be the same Liam Neeson movie.
But it's so unintentionally hilarious as I kept thinking about those ironic “strips of civilisation” which Old Liam, a confessor too brutally honest for his own good, refers to. “Strips of civilisation” as compared to that giant slab of racist barbarism he'd just admitted to? An admission so shocking it wouldn't be on anybody's confession list, let alone Schindler's List.
But even without this accidental controversy to stir things up, Cold Pursuit, a black comedy that wants to be an action flick or maybe it's the other way round, is still a deliberately awful film. Now, Neeson has been stuck in the snow before in a 2012 movie called The Grey. But that time he took on growling wolves; this time he's dealing with bungling idiots.
Cold Pursuit looks as though somebody got inspired by the Coen brothers's freezing, oddly homicidal Fargo and thought they could combine it with Quentin Tarantino's gathering-of-baddies The Hateful Eight by way of Neeson's avenging MAD (Mad Angry Dad) persona taken out of Taken.
You know, that's when he towers over everybody, spouts his brand of gallows humour with his unshakeable Irish accent, smiles a darkly amusing “You're so dead” smile to the bad guys, and then, very righteously and satisfyingly for both himself and the hyped-up audience, terminates them.
Problem is the people in charge here — Norwegian director Hans Petter Moland helms this — are clearly not as good or as clever as the Coen brothers or Tarantino or even their next-door neighbours. By the way, this pic is a remake of Moland's 2014 Norwegian original called In Order Of Disappearance where the lead character is named Dickman instead of Coxman here (go figure out the lame sexual joke).
It's the kind of smart-ass gag reel which peppers cute, inane chuckles throughout this schizophrenic mess of a plot where for the first bit, you settle in thinking this is a Liam Neeson revenge deal because it really looks like a Liam Neeson revenge deal.
Before, that is, the man disappears midway through the movie for a whole bunch of unsavoury, offbeat characters to hijack the screen as though our beloved Liam has himself taken off for an extended ski vacation.
Neeson's Coxman is pissed because his good son has been murdered by a psychotic drug lord, Viking (Brit actor Tom Bateman with an even more psychotic American accent), who leads a gang of neatly-suited nasties with endearing nicknames like Speedo, Limbo, Santa, etc.
This allows cryptic name cards to pop up post-demise to mark the death of each person comically as if this is a soundless old-fashioned vaudeville show.
The audience smiles at this running joke and at Coxman's disarming everyman manner of throwing the people he's killed off a very icy but scenic waterfall as though it's his personal dumping ground. That's before the Red Indians, a very shrill Asian woman, a chopped-off head and other assorted funky murders come into the picture.
Due to no one suspecting the harmless snowplough man to be such an efficient killer, the whole situation morphs into a farcical everybody-gets-it adventure as the white drug gang, losing their members one by one to Coxman the Death Man, thinks they have been ambushed by the Red Indian drug gang and mistakenly strings up the wrong enemy.
As things escalate, the audience grows more and more unsure about whether to continue to sort of snigger mindlessly since, er, while the white gang seems more or less normal, aren't the Native American mobsters being portrayed rather disparagingly and disgracefully here as juvenile buffoons who like to play in the snow with the obligatory hackneyed joke about “making a reservation” thrown in?
And how about a racist joke closer to home where Coxman's sister-in-law is a Thai dragon-woman who likes to file her nails because all Asian women are supposed to be natural-born manicurists, right?
At which point, you wonder how a film with Likeable Liam at its disposal can get so offensive? Did the snowy chill of the location here numb the brains of the folks involved into a collective mind freeze? Did someone wanna make Dances With Fools?
“I picked a good road early and I stayed on it,” Neeson quips here, referring to his road-clearing job as a snowplough man. Man, that road sure got a whole lot bumpier this time around. (*1/2)
Photo: Shaw Organisation