Retribution. M. 90 minutes. One star.
Liam Neeson has reached the point where the phrase "a Liam Neeson movie" tells you exactly what to expect.
It goes something like this: a flawed man finds himself in a situation where he and/or his family get threatened and has to use - or discover - a particular set of skills to prevail.
Retribution is the latest. It's well made and not unwatchable but it's so, so, so familiar. Think of it as Speed meets Taken and you'll get the idea.
Neeson plays Matt Turner, who works as a hedge fund manager in the firm owned by his friend Anders Muller (Matthew Modine) in Berlin. Why Berlin? There was a fair bit of German money in this international co-production, but it's not like the setting matters much.
Matt is a workaholic with the gift of the gab, able to keep reluctant investors from leaving, but his dedication to his job has severely damaged his relationships with his wife Heather (Embeth Davidtz), who's reached breaking point, and their bratty teenagers Zach (Jack Champion) and Emily (Lilly Aspell).
When Heather reminds him he had promised to take the kids to school on a day she has something on, he tries to beg off - he has an important early morning call to make to a client - but she's adamant.
After some effort he manages to get Emily and Zach - who was planning to spend the day with his girlfriend rather than at school - in the car.
But his troubles are just beginning.
A phone with a ringtone of London Bridge is Falling Down rings. It's not any of theirs, and when Matt answers someone with a technologically distorted voice - let's call them Mystery Caller, or MC - tells him there's a bomb under his seat. It was armed when he sat down and he's being watched. If he or any of the kids try to get out or contact the police, the bomb will explode.
And if he doesn't do exactly what he is told at all times, guess what will happen?
As schemes go, this has its dubious aspects - what if Matt had forgotten something and had to go back in the house? what if the car needed refuelling? - but it sets up the situation efficiently enough.
The dialogue and the characters and the story - down to the surprise reveal - inspire repeated feelings of deja vu from any number of action movies, without anything sufficiently novel to make the film more than a mindless diversion.
Matt tries for the kids' sake to pretend everything is OK but then he goes, under instruction, in a direction that's not towards their school. But when MC tells Matt to throw their mobile phones out of the car, they realise something's really wrong.
And off they go, with Matt taken to the car of a colleague who received a similar call. When that car explodes Matt becomes the prime suspect (and it's not the first car bombing that day). This presents another implausibility, or it would if Liam Neeson wasn't at the wheel: Matt is able to outdrive and outrun every vehicle the Berlin police send after him. Who knew a hedge fund manager had such driving skills?
Retribution is the first English-language remake of a Spanish-French film that was remade in German and Korean versions - I haven't seen any of those but they couldn't be any more pared-back and generic than this.
Neeson has become a bit like Robert De Niro - a fine actor who all too often latterly has been squandering his talents in terrible movies. With De Niro, it's usually comedies; with Neeson, it's cliched action movies. The latter has the advantage as some of the De Niro films are painfully bad.
But Neeson is capable of much better, so it's disappointing to see him in yet another formulaic movie without offering anything new.
If all you want is some driving action and Neeson looking anguished when he's not looking angry, go for it.