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" They should have sent a poet "
— Jodie Foster, Contact

MRQE Top Critic

Creed II

It's all about the importance of character and the ability to face life's challenges. —Matt Anderson (review...)

Creed II

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Liam Neeson almost manages to make an honest movie out of Honest Thief.

Good Will Robbing

He's a thief. Honest.
He’s a thief. Honest.

Supposedly Neeson was going to retire from action movies a few years ago. And yet the hits (at least on screen) keep coming. Maybe there’s a baseline financial motive behind sticking to the genre, especially considering his own recent unfortunate run-in with the headlines. Besides, at 68, Neeson proves it’s possible to star in an action movie without much in the way of physical exertion. After all, we all have to pay the bills somehow and most of us would prefer to do it without resorting to robbing banks.

Enter Tom Dolan, Neeson’s character in Honest Thief. Tom was a demolitions expert in the Marines and he parlayed those skills into a whopping $9 million haul during the course of eight years robbing 12 banks in seven states. They weren’t the “stick ‘em up” variety. He blew open vaults, ones made prior to 1950. He did it for revenge, after the CEO of the company his dad worked for embezzled funds from the employee pension plan. In his first caper, Tom walked off with more loot than his dad made in his entire lifetime — and it was a life cut short by suicide, despondent in the wake of the loss of both his wife and his retirement nest egg.

But Tom’s an honest thief. Um. Hence the title. He never spent a penny of it. Instead, he stuffed it all in bankers boxes (nice touch) and, to serve as a cover for the easily distracted, he always stuffed a hardcover book or two on top of the loot in each box (slick, Tom — certainly Les Miserables is in one of those boxes). Then those boxes were stored in a good ol’ storage shed.

As fate would have it, when Tom moves to Boston and needs a new unit to stash the cash, he meets Annie (Kate Walsh, 13 Reasons Why on Netflix). It was love at first bite — as in the sandwich at the counter... Uh. Never mind.

Chicken Soup for the Thieving Soul

Meeting Annie gives Tom the same adrenaline rush — that feeling of being alive — that blasting open bank vaults used to give him. He decides to go clean and he wants to turn himself in so he can cut a deal, do some time (within an hour of Boston, to make conjugal visits a little more convenient for Annie) and then get on with wedded bliss. Maybe he should’ve talked to her about it all before popping the question; maybe he should’ve confessed before popping the question. But, c’mon, roll with it.

Things go south when two FBI agents — Jai Courtney (A Good Day to Die Hard) and Anthony Ramos (Godzilla: King of the Monsters) — check out Tom’s confession. Turns out something on the order of 15 other kooks have confessed to being the “In ‘n’ Out” bandit, so they’re skeptical. Tom takes great umbrage with the moniker; his work is precise (not to mention the potential burger chain brand violation).

Rather incredulously for a man of such precision he details the terms of his surrender with consideration to maintaining a successful love life, Tom simply hands Agent Nivens (Courtney) the key to the shed and allows the agents to visit the unit without his precise oversight to keep things honorable.

Sigh. An honest thief should never be so trustworthy.

Nivens takes a mighty quick U-turn to Bad Cop and the ensuing mayhem involves a couple murders and a countdown to that anticipated confrontation between honest thief and crooked agent.

Thief. Pay. Glove.

Consider this one basic pandemic comfort food. It’s not the least bit demanding; it’s actually downright predictable. There’s very little in the way of menace; this isn’t Scorsese territory. This is light, PG-13 action involving one remarkably straightlaced man sticking it to a couple FBI agents who probably would’ve been fired from the Keystone Cops back in the day.

And, for that matter, even the build-up for the you-know-its-coming vengeance of Tom is tame, followed by a remarkably brief spate of action before the inevitable conclusion.

But then there’s Neeson. Dang. Against all odds, he still manages to sell it in the midst of predictability, unintentionally humorous dialogue and a surprisingly limited dose of action.

Putting things in as generous a light as humanly possible, the filmmakers were going for something a little different here. Think of this one as Eat. Pray. Love. for the action demographic. Consider this description supplied by the studio: “From the co-creator of Emmy-nominated series Ozark, thriller Honest Thief showcases Liam Neeson in a heartfelt tale of redemption, packed with fights, chases and explosions centered on one man’s mission to make things right for the sake of love.”

Heartfelt tale? Well, at least this time Neeson certainly seems to have traded in going for the jugular in favor of pulling on the heart strings. Unfortunately, that leaves the moviegoer feeling a little robbed.