There’s always been a tradition of comedians employing their own writers to add jokes to a screenplay; it’s a way of tailoring the material to their personalities.
Why couldn’t an action hero do the same thing?
I found myself wondering this while watching “A Walk Among the Tombstones,” the new one with Liam Neeson. Ever since 2008’s “Taken,” Neeson has been reborn as a tough-talking, rock-fisted avenger.
Given that run of pictures, he could easily employ a writer who has only one job: authoring the terse, no-nonsense lines Neeson breathes into the phone as he lets the bad guys know how futile their continued existence is. “I will find you, and I will kill you,” etc.
“Tombstones” has a couple of those moments, and they’re choice. The movie itself is a cut above Neeson’s pulpier outings, and operates in a very traditional private-eye groove.
It’s based on a novel by Lawrence Block, the prolific crime writer, and features Block’s private detective Matt Scudder. Neeson fits the role just fine, catching the weariness and desperation that sits with the character’s competence.
The story’s a tangled and frequently unpleasant spin through some kidnappings that target drug kingpins. Scudder is hired by a dealer (Dan Stevens, also in “The Guest” this week) to find the freaks who kidnapped and killed his wife.
I wasn’t crazy about the adolescent sidekick (Brian “Astro” Bradley) Scudder takes on, and at times the film is so old-fashioned it groans. Every reference to Scudder being slow to embrace cell phones or computers (the story’s set in 1999) sounds warmed over.
The two villains (David Harbour and Adam David Thompson) are so hopped-up on their own weirdness, they seem like escapees from a “Lethal Weapon” picture. This really is the ’90s.
Despite some miscues, the film is gratifying in certain basic ways. Writer-director Scott Frank, who did the screenplay adaptations for “Out of Sight” and “Minority Report,” clearly has respect for the genre, and he hasn’t made Scudder a superhero (a carryover from Block’s literary character is that Scudder is a recovering alcoholic, a point that plays a role in the storytelling).
Which means Neeson has only a couple of brawls and some minor chases. But when he breathes his warnings into the telephone, he earns his hazard pay, and then some.
“A Walk Among the Tombstones” (3 stars)
A very traditional private-eye picture, with Liam Neeson as Lawrence Block’s long-running literary hero Matt Scudder. The frequently unpleasant plot revolves around a couple of insane kidnappers, and although director Scott Frank makes some miscues, the overall result is intense.
Rating: R, for violence, language, nudity
Showing: Alderwood Mall, Cinebarre Mountlake Terrace,
Everett Stadium, Galaxy Monroe, Marysville, Oak Tree, Pacific Place, Seven Gables,
Woodinville, Cascade Mall