Alberto MariniChristopher Salmanpour
Liam NeesonNoma DumezweniMatthew Modine
For a brief 25 minutes, Nimrod Antal’s “Retribution” proves to be wickedly entertaining. The story follows Matt Turner (Liam Neeson), an overworked banker, who finds himself driving his disgruntled kids to school when he unexpectedly receives a call from an unknown person claiming their luxury S.U.V. is rigged with a bomb. The enigmatic caller demands obedience, creating a high-stakes situation.
The initial command: confiscate the children’s phones. This task seems nearly impossible, and Matt’s teenage son (Jack Champion) responds with sarcastic disbelief, barely glancing up from his screen. Unfortunately, once the kids comply, the tension dissipates.
Curiosity arises regarding who persuades Neeson to repeatedly participate in these tough-father thriller films, and when this genre will break free from its clichés of sepia-toned skies, stylized poster fonts, and titles seemingly plucked from pages of the Old Testament.
Antal and screenwriter Chris Salmanpour have reimagined the 2015 Spanish movie “El Desconocido,” resulting in a script that appears as if it were rewritten in bold capital letters. Neeson’s introductory scene, the only moment he stands upright, showcases an impressive boxing workout before his boss (Matthew Modine) interrupts to dub him a “credit to capitalism” and use an unprintable term. (Matt’s estranged wife, portrayed by Embeth Davidtz, would certainly concur with the latter.)
The necessity of Neeson in these films is evident: He delivers each line as if his life hangs in the balance. However, even Neeson’s gravity cannot rescue the frustrating plot conveniences and absurd dialogue that progressively make the characters sound more unintelligent as they elaborate on their motives. If you manage to endure the absurdities until the moment the antagonist unveils their identity with a smug taunt — “Surprise?” — you might find yourself, as I did, shouting back, “No!”