Director: Mark Williams
Stars: Liam Neeson, Kate Walsh, Jeffrey Donovan
Mark Williams’ Honest Thief is a film so bad I can’t even hate it. Instead, it just made me feel a kind of sad pity. The kind of pity you feel for a family pet that’s DEFINITELY going to have to be put down; it’s big eyes looking at you, unsure but afraid that, yup, this is really it. Even though it’s never harmed anybody. Never presumed to be anything other than it’s own, rather dumb self.
But for everyone’s best interest, especially the poor animal’s, it’s time to get the shotgun.
Good ol’ Liam Neeson is Tom Dolan, a former marine and prolific bank robber with a heart of gold. A year ago he moved to Boston and rented a storage unit from Annie (Kate Walsh) and now they’re in love. So much so that he wants to do two things; buy a house so that the two of them to make a life together… and go to jail for his crimes.
Yes, good ol’ Tom can’t live with the idea of hiding his nefarious past from the woman he loves, so he’s ready to turn himself in and barter for a reduced sentence. Trouble is, the FBI won’t believe him.
At said institution, we get an unusual bunch. Robert Patrick’s salty senior agent Baker scans as legit, but those around him carry some particularly honky energy. Jeffrey Donovan’s Meyers feels like he’s been lifted out of another movie altogether; a cute Disney double-act with the little dog he won in the divorce (Donovan’s actually the best thing here probably, so lets leave him be). Then there are the two underling agents played by Jai Courtney and Anthony Ramos; the two least-convincing lawmen in cinema history. No, really. I can’t think of any actors who’ve ever seemed so ill-fitting in their characters’ clothes. Courtney might make it through interview stage for The Office but Ramos? Trying to tessellate his character with the rigors of the FBI training academy makes my head want to detach. No. Just, no. His Agent Hall doesn’t seem like he finished high school.
These two dumbbells wind up becoming the movie’s antagonists. Tom tries to ‘fess up for his crimes and these two idiots decide, hey, what if we steal the money from him? Their improv plan spirals out of control immediately, with acts-of-bonehead so idiotic that, again, pity sets in. But the problem is all in how it’s played. Williams could’ve gone for a deliberately inept, goofball tone, akin to the Coen Brothers circa Burn After Reading, say. A comedy of errors. Instead – as everywhere – he comes at you with soap opera sincerity. And so that feeling of chronic ineptitude doesn’t seem to emanate from the characters at all; it feels like its coming from the writers. The dialogue (and its delivery) is at once terrible and trite enough not to lodge in the mind. I laughed at it, but its already long gone, consigned the garbage bin of “shit I don’t need to remember”.
Imagine a Liam Neeson revenge movie penned by the people who come up with the words inside those cheap, over-sized greetings cards. The ones that either have a window in the front or a tacky ribbon and some ball bearings stuck on them. The ones that seem to come with a lot of cellophane for a piece of thick paper with a fold in it. The ones you use to discern which cards might have some actual class. That’s pretty much what you’ve got here.
Now, you could argue that at least it’s offering something different. Neeson actioners come in a couple of modes; either they’re tough and nasty and not very good (the Takens, that Walk Among the Tombstones business) or they’re very silly and a little bit inspired (any of the Jaume Collet-Serra ones, basically). Honest Thief, however, offers up a third option; the Liam Neeson actioner you can go and see with your nan that’s mild enough for her to have a nap and pretend she didn’t.
It isn’t all that violent. It isn’t all that mean. It doesn’t go all that fast. In fact, there’s barely a pulse to the thing. Any scene between Neeson and Walsh comes cushioned in cotton-ball sentimentality as he wells up over how much he loves her, and how good he is. The FBI agent has a cute dog. Where other action movies run and shout, Honest Thief would prefer to sit on a park bench for a bit and look at the ducks. Even Neeson’s looking a little past it. And that’d be fine, really, if it wasn’t constantly insulting your intelligence the entire time.
I’ve rarely seen such exposed Imposter Syndrome. Honest Thief feels as though it was designed and destined for VOD obscurity, but lucked out with a cinema release during a global pandemic because theatres are frankly desperate for content. It’s wholly out of place up there. Imagine going to your multiplex and an episode of EastEnders was showing? (It’d probably be more gripping, in fairness).
The poor thing isn’t well, and it’d be cruel to let it suffer. It’s time to take it out to the barn.