To be brutally honest, Liam Neeson’s career is starting to look depressing. When the talented Irish leading man turned from playing real-life figures like Oskar Schindler and Alfred Kinsey to the kick-ass action heroes of the “Taken” series and “Non-Stop,” it seemed like an amusing diversion and a little money in the bank. But the budgets have been getting cheaper, the thrills tamer, and the plots more threadbare, and you can see right through his latest, “Honest Thief,” all the way to Worcester.
That’s where the film was shot in late 2018, even though it’s set in Boston and bandies about place names within Rte. 128. Neeson plays Tom Dolan, a lone-wolf bank robber who cracks safes so efficiently that he’s known as “The In and Out Burglar.” Having met a late-life soulmate in divorcee Annie (Kate Walsh of “Grey’s Anatomy”) — who think he’s in security and obviously hasn’t asked a lot of questions — Tom decides to give himself up to the feds, return the money, and hopefully cut a deal for a light sentence.
The early scenes in which the hero tries to convince a jaded bureau head (Robert Patrick) that he actually is the In and Out Burglar are gruffly amusing, but “Honest Thief” takes a turn for the nasty when Nevins (Jai Courtney), one of the agents sent to bring Tom in, gets greedy and convinces his weak-willed partner, Hall (Anthony Ramos), to go along in framing the robber for murder. The rest of the film is payback, with the feds' boss (Jeffrey Donovan) slowly realizing that there may be more to the story than he’s being told.
Given the high-wattage cast — Courtney and Patrick have been in different “Terminator” movies and Ramos co-starred in “Hamilton” — “Honest Thief” is surprisingly low-rent. The two car crashes look like they ate up half the budget and when one character’s house is blown up, the flames are patently digital.
Then there’s the matter of the dialogue written by director Mark Williams with Steve Allrich. It is . . . dire. Explaining why he wants to come in from the cold, Tom tells the FBI head, “I met a woman. She’s smart, caring, driven, funny. I adore every bit of her. I want to be with her for the rest of my days, without feeling guilty about lying to her about my past indiscretions. . . . And she means more to me than all the dollar bills in the world.” Try saying that with a straight face and you’ll know why Neeson is worth whatever they’re paying him. And, if you’re from around here, try listening to this howler from Annie with a straight face: “The first surprise was let’s get a cute house in Newton and the second surprise is that you’re a bank robber?”
That’s the best laugh in the film. “Honest Thief” is opening in theaters but it’s not worth the money or the risk: It’s perfectly generic on-demand product that will eat up an hour and a half of your life and be immediately forgotten. And at 68 the star may be getting too old to be pistol-whipping his way through the mean streets of Worcester. Even if he doesn’t have iron-poor blood by now, his movies do.
Directed by Mark Williams. Written by Williams and Steve Allrich. Starring Liam Neeson, Kate Walsh, Jai Courtney, Anthony Ramos. At Boston theaters, suburbs. 99 minutes. PG-13 (strong violence, crude references, brief strong language).