Since the dawn of Charles Bronson’s days as a leading man, Hollywood has made a mint on the trope of a mumbly, barrel-chested dad with everything to lose. The people he loves get killed or maimed, transforming our hero into a squib-splattering instrument of vigilante justice. Thugs with poor hygiene get mowed down in waves as the angry, middle-aged stud takes a ravenous bite outta crime. It’s a genre that’s been done to a pulpy death, but somehow these revenge flicks get a renaissance every few years (“Revengaissance?”). Cold Pursuit does put a spin on all that with a heavy load of coal-black, Coen brothers humor and a gravelly-voiced Liam Neeson saying some cool Liam Neeson shit. While I can admire this movie for all its slick, noirish cleverness, I really can’t say I enjoyed it all that much.
The story centers on Nelson Coxman (Neeson), a monosyllabic Marlboro Man who plows the path in and out of a Colorado ski town. Coxman lives quietly with his earthy wife (Laura Dern, who announces her hippiness by sparking a doob while making dinner) and enjoys all the benefits of this seemingly simple existence. This snow-packed tranquility shatters when their son (Micheál Richardson, Neeson’s actual son) is found dead of an apparent heroin overdose. Coxman prepares to end his life, only to surreptitiously discover that his son’s death actually occurred on the orders of a local cartel boss. With that, Coxman saws the barrel off his deer rifle and goes huntin’ for scumbags. He works his way up the cartel’s command structure, cracking skulls and dumping bodies as he goes. As Coxman draws closer to the object of his wrath, things get dicey when a turf war erupts between the cartel and their Native American rivals.
Cold Pursuit slowly grows clumsy with plot, sending it skidding off an icy road. Characters pop up, simply to get whacked in the very same scene. Subplots emerge and go nowhere interesting. (Emmy Rossum gets completely wasted as a local cop who spends much of her time being smarter than her doofus coworkers.) Laura Dern, who makes any movie better, vanishes way too early and leaves her story arc hanging like an unreturned high five. The story just doesn’t haven’t enough horsepower to propel all this bulk.
Despite its narrative warts, Cold Pursuit does have a few things to enjoy. Neeson fans will undoubtedly enjoy the stoic strength he brings to Coxman. (Does Hollywood funnel all these retaliation movies directly to him? I picture an entire stack of scripts about a good man with a particular set of skills required to do a few evil deeds.) Tom Bateman chomps the scenery as an erudite crime boss who plans organic meals for his son and corrects the grammar of everyone around him. Many of the movie’s gory scenes have moments of macabre humor sprinkled into them, and some land better than others. After a while, the ass-whoopins and headshots hits grow a little wearying. For a movie with a forgone conclusion, Cold Pursuit takes a winding mountain pass to get there.
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