Retribution Review: Liam Neeson Grumbles His Way Through Another Dull Action Pic


Pop quiz, hot shot! There's a bomb in Liam Neeson's car! What do you do?!

What if someone remade "Speed" and removed all the stuff that made that movie so exciting? The result might be "Retribution," Nimród Antal's monotonous thriller that finds Liam Neeson doing his usual Liam Neeson thing yet again. Neeson, who went from professorial roles to an unlikely action star, can play this sort of part in his sleep at this point, and he certainly seems sleepy here, growling unconvincing dialogue as he speeds around in a car wired to explode. Yes, just like "Speed," a mad bomber has planted a device in a vehicle, and if a certain set of rules aren't followed, that bomb will explode. 

Neeson is Matt Turner, a financier living in Germany with his frustrated wife (Embeth Davidtz), his angry teen son (Jack Champion), and his loud daughter (Lilly Aspell). We know Matt is good at his job because his house is huge and his car is fancy and new. We also know he's a tough guy because he rises with the sun to punch away at a heavy bag in his home gym. And we also know he's a distant husband and father because he's constantly checking in on work via his phone and ignoring those around him. But Matt Turner is about to have a very bad day that will change everything and put his entire family in danger. 

The energy is low

After an explosive opening involving a nameless character blown up in his car, we meet Matt and his family on what should be a typical day. But Matt gets roped into driving his kids to school, something it's clear he doesn't do that often. And this will be no easy feat: brother and sister seem to constantly be fighting, and Matt's son has reached a rebellious age where he calls his father by his first name instead of "dad." 

And oh yeah, there's a bomb in the car. After finding a mysterious cell phone planted in his vehicle, Matt begins talking with a shady character disguising his voice with a device that makes him sound like he has a really bad cold. The mystery man has some bad news for Matt: there's a bomb in the car, and if Matt gets out of his seat, the bomb will explode. The mad bomber is watching and says that Matt has to follow a specific set of orders. If he doesn't, well, you guessed it — the bomb will explode. 

Matt understandably thinks this is some kind of sick joke at first, but no, it's real — he finds the bomb under his seat. Now he has to cruise around town and commit a series of questionable acts all in the name of keeping himself and his kids alive. What, exactly, does this bomber want? And why is he targeting Matt? I promise you the answer to these questions is not particularly interesting or engaging. "Retribution" is a hum-drum affair, and even when the stakes are high, the energy is low 

Speed this is not

Neeson has made a lot of tough guy action films in the last several years, and while some of them — specifically the ones with director Jaume Collet-Serra, who serves as a producer on this film — have been fun, "Retribution" is destined to be yet another forgotten entry in the actor's filmography. 

Confined thrillers like this can work in the right hands. Hell, "Locke," a movie that's just Tom Hardy talking on a phone while driving, is incredibly exciting. And of course, "Speed," the film that clearly influenced the scenario on display here, is thrilling at every turn. But Antal, working with a script by Chris Salmanpour (based on the Spanish-French film "El desconocido"), never manages to light the fuse. The filmmaker can't even summon a spark. This is technically an action film, what with all the driving and exploding going on, but the action is flat and blunted. Nothing here feels as dangerous as it should; even when they learn how much danger they're in, Matt and his kids remain oddly calm about the whole "we could blow up at any second" thing — including after they witness one of Matt's colleagues blown up, his blood staining Matt's windshield in the process. 

The German location (the film was shot at a studio in Potsdam, as well as on the streets of Berlin) should add something to the proceedings — why else set the film there? And yet the location feels like an afterthought; a tax write-off, perhaps. No one is expecting "Retribution" to reinvent the wheel here, but there should be some semblance of excitement, right? "Speed" is one of the most entertaining action pics ever made. "Speed" this is not. Instead, it feels like the type of movie destined to play on TBS — something dads fall asleep to when ballgames are rained out. Once upon a time, a movie of this ilk could be unremarkable but fun; sturdy and dependable; solid, even. Not this time, though. 

/Film Rating: 5 out of 10

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