Review: ‘Honest Thief’ (a family friendly buddy revenge flick)

Someone tried to steal his second chance. NO ONE tries to steal his second chance.

When Tom (Liam Neeson) walks into a self-storage office to secure rental space, he is instantly smitten with Annie (Kate Walsh), kicking off a yearlong romance. But Tom has a secret past and, deciding he wants to spend his life with Annie, plans to come clean before making a firm commitment. Tom makes a call to the FBI to turn himself in, but an opportunistic agent (Jai Courtney) talks his partner (Anthony Ramos) into an early retirement scheme that goes sideways. When a third agent (Jeffrey Donovan) begins to question the official report on their fugitive, Tom plays the last card dealt to him before escaping: coming clean with Annie sooner than he intended… and worse than everything he imagined.

Movie goers know this genre. A presumably regular Joe tries to go unnoticed in their present life and forget about some secret past — military, special ops, bank robber, serial killer — but now someone they care about is in danger — daughter, parent, wife, ex-wife, girlfriend, stripper — and they’ll need all their (insert special skills here) to save the person, stop the bad people, and live another day — roll credits. It doesn’t change up very often, but every once in a while you get a Die Hard or Under Siege… which then gets remade until everything special about them is sifted out. That said, what could go wrong when Darkman teams up with The Handler?

This past August, Unhinged managed to elevate a by-the-numbers thriller merely by hiring Russell Crowe to play a bad guy… and only as he could play it. As if there was another story only in his head, it was as if no one told the actor, “Hey, it’s a standard thriller; say the lines and cash your check.” Similarly, Honest Thief one-ups that fare with not one name actor but an entire cast of “knowns,” and the results are, to say the least, curious. The film does nothing new other than doing it very well, banking on a natural chemistry between Walsh and Neeson with the rest of the players in parts we’ve seen them all do before… just never together. What should have been a simple throwaway matinee combines a chick flick, a buddy flick, and a revenge flick into a slick little waste of time, easy to swallow yet tastier than it ought to be.

This flat out shouldn’t have worked. Anyone who knows Donovan from USA Network’s “Burn Notice” will expect his character catch on quick. Both Robert Patrick and Jai Courtney cut their teeth in separate Terminator films, with Courtney even playing the son of John McClain for a Diehard sequel. Anthony Ramos has been in everything from Godzilla: King of the Monsters to Hamilton, and anyone caught up on Netflix’s “The Umbrella Academy” knows not to mess with “Grey’s Anatomy” alumni Walsh. Yet it’s still just another Liam Neeson movie… waiting for the moment when he calmly terrorizes an adversary over the phone as if he could reach through it.

Honest Thief even twists the usual expectations for this genre, and it isn’t difficult to imagine a post-COVID sequel if everyone’s game. Viewers who aren’t fans of this kind of film may be pleasantly surprised by it if they give it a chance. High art? No, but entertaining enough for audiences seeking a bit of old-fashioned escapism. But seriously: doesn’t a team-up of Darkman and The Handler sound cool…?!

Honest Thief is rated PG-13 for strong violence, crude references, brief strong language, and having are a very particular set of skills… skills acquired over a very long career.

Three skull recommendation out of four

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