Courtesy of Summit/Lionsgate
Watching Liam Neeson have a macho action-star rebirth in his career has been a highlight dating all the way back to 2008 in “Taken” where he played Bryan Mills, an ex CIA operative with a “unique set of skills” and took out every goon from Amsterdam to Paris in order to find his kidnapped daughter. In the time since then, we’ve had “Unknown,” “Non-Stop,” “The Commuter,” and approximately seven “Taken” films which loosely mirror the same basic structure for the actor: find the bad guys, yell “Where is he?!” and kill anyone that stands in his way. You’d think after recycling the same material in, by my count, nine movies, the formula would grow tiresome, but the veteran action star’s latest: “Cold Pursuit” is a deliciously fun and campy revenge flick that thrives on Neeson’s appeal alone.
Taking place in a mostly isolated and snowy ski-town of Kehoe, Colorado, Neeson is Nels Coxman - (what a name!) - a snowplow man who was just named citizen of the year for his diligence in keeping the community safe, and whose life is turned upside down when authorities discover that his son, Kyle, has died of an overdose. However, Coxman knows his son, and can smell something fishy.
The script, written by Frank Baldwin, has the vibe of a vintage Charles Bronson flick you’d rent on VHS in the early 1980s, and is sporadically funny in the same way too, giving daffy nicknames like “Speedo,” “Wingman,” and “Santa” to the drug goons who murdered Kyle. It plays and reads like a rejected Tarantino flick, but Neeson, who never phones in a performance, elevates the final product as he climbs the ladder of justice axing each thug one-by-one (each more bloodier than the last) in the way only Neeson can accomplish. Sure it’s campy trash, but something about Neeson blowing someone’s head off with a sawn-off sniper rifle seems tasteful. Even more devilish is the main crony himself, a Denver playboy who goes by “Viking” (played with a snicker by Tom Bateman) who is the main target on Coxman’s quest for vengeance. I believe this is the first time I’ve seen a villain give a speech about the dangers of high-fructose corn syrup and why his son should not be eating such filth.
No matter how convoluted “Cold Pursuit” gets in its execution, (there’s a drug war escalating with a nearby clan, and the inclusion of Emily Rossum and John Doman’s Kehoe police department, that feels tacked on), things generally stay grounded in its message of resilience. When the blood from the snow becomes washed away, and the crime novel inspired narrative becomes laxed is where Neeson’s character study prevails. Like a snow plow pushing through a terrible winter storm, when Neeson is facing the same odds he does in every action script tossed his way, the man can’t be stopped.