Irreverence is a tricky thing to master in the world of cinema. You can try a sleight of hand maneuver or just delightfully entertain your audience with something that aims to be different; either way can end up being unsuccessful.
In Hans Petter Moland's "Cold Pursuit", Nels Coxman (Liam Neeson) is a good, simple man torn apart by tragedy. Voted by his community as "Man of the Year," Coxman seemingly has it all: a satisfying job, loving wife, and a healthy young son. But one night can change everything, and when something is taken away from Coxman, he breaks bad, seeking to find the men responsible.
It's the same, old-looking hat worn by Neeson over the past decade, but there's a little wrinkle thrown into this revenge scramble. This time, the actor, the rest of the cast, Moland and screenwriter Frank Baldwin try serving it all up as a darkly comic take on the action adventure. As if to say, "Hey, we are joking here, so please laugh!"
In order to spin the worn out fable one more time before the actor hits serious AARP land, something different was attempted.
I don't think it was successful. In reality, "Cold Pursuit" is downright boring, terribly-paced and just silly. A change of pace doesn't always guarantee a high success rate.
A snow-plowing mechanic, jack of all wintry trades type, Coxman is this regular guy who we know little about other than the fact he knows how to pave a path in a land layered with a foot of snow per day, and doesn't like giving speeches. In a matter of days, he turns into a gun-wielding cold-blooded killer who is taking out bad guys like they were people standing in his way at the car wash. In other films, it could work, but not here.
Who are the bad guys? Quirky people with names like Speedo, Limbo, Viking, and other nonsense. Are you laughing yet? Tom Bateman is the big, bad wolf here, and he tries to breathe some alternative flavors into a thankless role, but fails to create anything worth remembering. A fitness-freak villain who splits custody of his kid, whom he doesn't allow to eat bad food.
You'll notice other names in the cast, like "Shameless" vet Emmy Rossum and "Big Little Lies" co-star Laura Dern. Both are fine actresses and are largely wasted playing caricatures of more interesting people. John Doman, playing the partner of Rossum's cop, is an accomplished thespian but doesn't get much to do here. Everybody is playing house, but I'm not buying any of it.
It doesn't help that the movie moves at the pace of an overweight snail, constantly trying to find life in what is going on. Basically, it's Neeson waging a path of war on these Speedos and Limbos, and that could have been something if the energy level didn't resemble a cup of stale, decaf coffee.
The movie suffers from a lack of identity, and this is the most crippling setback of all. The best thing about the "Taken" films and other Neeson actioners like "Run All Night" was that the film had a one-track mind and leaned into its purpose. If you want to be action, be it. If you want to be a drama, do that. If you want to be unlikely humorous, go that route. "Cold Pursuit" tries all of this stuff at once, and the result was underwhelming. Stick to one thing and hit it hard.
Neeson does his usual bad-to-the-bone act, and that's never bad to watch-but at this point, he needs a good setup and ensemble to make things work and stay fresh. The parts have to click in place in order for some fire to happen. When you play the same character over and over again, there's a misfortune to the repetition. He's throwing a twist on his usual character here, but Coxman simply isn't interesting enough.
"Cold Pursuit" wasn't screened for critics, and didn't have a great opening weekend at the box office. Most people will attribute that disappointment to Neeson's off-screen troubles due to recent racially-laced comments. I'll just say it could be due to the movie not being that great to begin with.
This is the movie you save for a rainy night on Redbox when you are sick enough to let your cinematic guard down for a minute.
"Cold Pursuit" isn't worthless, but a lack of focus and a sluggish pace doom a potentially good time at the movies.