Busy signal: Liam Neeson in the action-thriller ‘Retribution’.
RETRIBUTION *** (90 minutes) M
How joyful it is to be sitting through the latest Liam Neeson film and realize 20 minutes in that it’s actually quite good, sitting several notches above the mediocrity so many of his recent outings have tended to embrace.
In the punchy, tense, Berlin-set thriller Retribution we see our favourite senior citizen of action play Matt Turner, a persuasive, well-to-do investment advisor with a somewhat chequered track record.
While driving his troublesome teenage son and device-loving pre-teen daughter to school one morning he gets a phone call from an unknown caller with a disguised voice (of course) who informs him that his expensive has been booby trapped.
Under his seat is a pressure-sensitive bomb that’ll go off if he tries to get out or if he refuses to grant access to the secret Dubai bank account where a mountain of stolen loot is sitting.
Turner knows nothing about the pile (of course) but frantically tries to do as he’s told, including liaising with his equally confused boss (Matthew Modine), who is also sitting in a booby trapped car.
On top of all this, the poor sap also has to deal with his lovely wife Heather (Embeth Davidtz), who has chosen this particular morn to visit a divorce lawyer. As if he wasn’t having a tough enough start to the day.
It might not be the most original premise for a thriller, taking its cue from Speed, but director Nimród Antal (what an unfortunate first name that is) does a swell job keeping the action taut and the heightened story reasonably plausible.
A remake of the same-named 2015 Spanish film, there is some clever misdirection and a good handful of vehicle sequences that typically end with florid, digitally enhanced fireballs.
As for Neeson, he puts in a sufficiently credible performance, spending most of his time seated. One can only speculate whether that prospect sweetened the deal to take on the role.
Footnote: As luck would have it, the upcoming low-budget Australian film Mercy Road (screened at MIFF) also features a man stuck in a car taking orders over the phone from an anonymous tormentor. An unfortunate coincidence.
PAW PATROL: THE MIGHTY MOVIE *** (92 minutes) PG
We might well be stuffed to the gills with superhero fare yet this crowd-pleasing animated holiday family film (based on the super-popular TV show) manages to put an interesting spin on the idea.
Here, the tech-powered canine rescue team – for the uninitiated, think of them as Thunderbirds with Dogs – are imbued with special super powers thanks to the crystals from a pulsating meteor that has crashed in the middle of Adventure City, taking out their downtown HQ building, but leaving their giant aircraft carrier untouched.
With these powers they do battle with Victoria Vance (voiced by Taraji P. Henson), the cackling, scene-stealing, sassy, super-fun villain of the piece. She’s a hoot and a half, forever offended by the term “mad scientist”.
Eager to give the colourful mayhem some meaning, director Cal Brunker – who made the first Paw movie in 2021 and co-wrote this with Paw partner Bob Barlen – uses the super-power premise to work in some positive themes about the value of co-operation and how important it is not to judge anyone by their size.
Message-wise, it’s quite well done, chiefly through the character of Skye (Mckenna Grace), who is overly keen to prove her worth to the group.
Thankfully, the adult-oriented jokes sprinkled throughout – chiefly about movie merchandise and overpaid Hollywood actors – help brighten an enjoyable, fast-moving adventure full of colourful action and big dollops of unavoidable wide-eyed cuteness.
For those who care about such things, other voice talents include Kim Kardashian, Chris Rock and Kristen Bell. You can take it as read that the intended audience for the film are way too young, and probably too smart, to give a toss about celebrity voicework in animated films.