Review – No Country For Old Neeson’s (“The Marksman”)

Liam frickkin’ Neeson. The man has made quite a career out of being a bad-ass in cinema with films like his Taken trilogy, The Commuter, Cold Pursuit, Run All Night, and Non-Stop. But he’s shifted lately, getting softer with Honest Thief and Ordinary Love. Could Liam be mellowing?

This has been one lousy week for ex-USMC sniper and Vietnam vet, Jim Hanson (Neesom), who lives near the Arizona-Mexico border. Y’see, he just lost his wife, his lonely little ranch is in foreclosure, and he rarely sees his Border Patrol daughter, Sarah (Kathryn Pennington). And things are about to get worse. While he usually reports illegal immigrants crossing the border for their own safety, he wasn’t prepared to meet Rosa (Teresa Ruiz) and her young son, Miguel (Jacob Perez), who escaped through the gate, on the run from the vicious Vasquez Cartel.

But while Jim is calling the Border Patrol, who shows up but super-nasty cartel honcho, Mauricio (Juan Pablo Raba), and he wants them back! A shoot-out ensues, leaving Miguel in the hands of Jim who, in a moment of sheer lunacy (or dumb plot device), decides to drive the boy from Arizona to his next of kin in Chicago, without letting the government handle it. Gee, wasn’t that nice of him? Quicker than you can say, “Road trip!”, the pair, plus Jim’s faithful dog, embark on a long, long sojourn to the Windy City. BUT! Dang if that Mauricio wants revenge for Jim offing his brother!

What happens next is a game of “catch me if you can” as Jim & Miguel try to stay one step ahead of evil Mauricio and his posse of armed thugs. Along the way, lonely, isolated Jim tries to connect with lonely, isolated Miguel, but Jim flip-flops back and forth so often it makes you dizzy. Meanwhile, Mauricio is closing in through sheer dumb luck and so many fantastic coincidences, that the universe just may be on his side! The ending is, well, pretty much what you’d expect for this generic, paint-by-the-numbers screenplay that has SO many unanswered questions and missed opportunities.

Written by director Robert Lorenz (Trouble With The Curve), and first-time writers Chris Charles & Danny Kravitz, you can tell this movie is a basic, clichéd, plot-holed filled, carbon-copied screenplay that is about as boring as they come. You could have plugged any veteran actor into the same role (Stallone, Eastwood, Schwarzenegger, Tommy Lee Jones, Jackie Chan, Richard Roundtree, etc) and it would have worked out exactly the same. The cartel bad guys are SO flat, two-dimensional, and stereotypical that it makes me wonder who cast this. Rambo: Last Blood had better, believable Mexican actors!

This brings me to Neeson who, bless his heart, does his best in this schlocky B-movie and gives a decent performance without phoning it in. I even liked the young Jacob Perez, making his big-screen debut. He shows a maturity for his age that most kid actors don’t possess. You may remember Juan Pablo Raba as he played another drug cartel guy in 2018’s Peppermint, but his acting here has gone into Billy Zane territory! He mugs and overacts in such a way that it’s almost cartoonish. But probably the death knell is Lorenz’s mediocre direction (this is only his second movie), which is your basic point ‘n’ shoot camera work. Wait till this comes to basic cable if you must watch it.

**Now showing in theaters only.
           

Mercury Rising (1998)

Not every A-list actor can whip out a box office blockbuster time after time, there have to be some disasters, right? Well, during Bruce Willis’ rise in stardom in the late 90’s, he scored big-time with The Fifth Element, Armageddon, and The Sixth Sense. But THIS movie? Hoo-boy!!

Based on Ryan Douglas Pearson’s novel, Simple Simon, this long, dull, actioner has Willis as undercover FBI agent Arthur Jeffries suffering a major blow as his bank robbery sting operation goes south and he’s assigned to desk jockey work as punishment. Meanwhile, we are introduced to 9-year-old autistic savant Simon Lynch (an awesome Miko Hughes) who, amazingly, cracks an uncrackable super-code called Mercury that was placed in an innocent puzzle book as a “joke” by two NSA code nerds named Dean Crandell (Robert Standen) and Leo Pedranski (Bodhi Elfman). That code, if deciphered, would reveal super-secret undercover agents in the field.

Upset that a child (even an autistic one) knows about the Mercury code, NSA head honcho, Lt. Colonel Nicholas Kudrow (Alec Baldwin) orders a hit on the kid, along with his parents! Kudrow has stone-cold killer, Burrell (L.L. Ginter) do the dirty work, BUT! The kid escapes and is eventually found by Jeffries who, while trying to keep this screaming, kicking child alive, is also attempting to find out who wants to murder the tyke and why. After several more failed attempts and close calls, Jeffries gets a break when young Simon dials that secret code phone number again and Dean & Leo arrange to meet Jeffries. Nooooo! Bad idea, guys!

After spilling the beans to Jeffries, both guys get whacked and Jeffries decides to go after Kudrow for the big win, but Kudrow decides to have Jeffries framed for kidnapping and murder! Oh, and did I mention the young lady (Kim Dickens) that is thrown into the mix as a temporary babysitter for Simon for the third act? I guess they needed a sorta love interest for Jeffries that never panned out. Anyway, it all ends in a great big climactic shoot-out and the bad guys all get killed. Yaay.

Lawrence Conner & Mark Rosenthal are pretty much to blame for this stinker, as they wrote such bombs as Superman IV: The Quest For Peace,  The Beverly Hillbillies, and Tim Burton’s remake of The Planet of the Apes. I suppose the novel was better, ’cause this movie is deadly dull despite all the shoot-outs, chase scenes, and risky adventures that Jeffries and the child have together. The set-up and scenes are all boring, witless, and staged without any real tension. The only fun parts are, surprisingly, all the scenes with the computer nerds who steal the movie each time with their banter. Director Harold Becker (City Hall, Malice) does an adequate job here, but he’s not an action director like John McTiernan or Michael Mann, which this picture desperately needed.

In fact, this movie should have been called Contractually Obligated: the Movie, as neither Willis nor Baldwin wanted to do this film, but they had to. Despite that fact, they both gave decent performances without phoning it in, as you can see in the wine cellar scene. Although this movie tanked at the box office and made the Golden Raspberry Awards very happy, there was one shining ember: Miko Hughes. The 12-year-old was the best actor on the screen, graphically portraying an autistic child with such raw believability, that you’d swear he was the real deal. Miko had, in fact, studied other autistic children in other schools to get his method down, and he doesn’t disappoint.

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