Liam Neeson’s late-career international tour of vengeance has already travelled via Paris and Istanbul in the Taken series, London in Non-Stop and New York in The Commuter. The latest stop on his bloody rampage is the snow-covered fictional town of Kehoe, Colorado, where revenge is served very, very cold and in gluttonous abundance.
While it sounds much like any other Neeson action movie, Cold Pursuit is actually considerably weirder. Neeson plays Nels Coxman, a snow plough driver who is such a sturdy, salt of the earth man that in the film’s opening minutes he’s awarded Kehoe Citizen of the Year. Depending on your view, he either shames or honours that title when his son is kidnapped and murdered by drug smugglers. Consumed by fury and so devastated he has no fear of death, Coxman tracks down those responsible and kills them one by one.
So far so Taken-y, but director Hans Petter Moland doesn’t follow the usual intense blueprint. Cold Pursuit is a remake of his own 2014 Norwegian black comedy In Order of Disappearance, and he ports a lot of the oddness over to this. Kehoe’s sizeable crime community is packed with nutballs, from a slick crime boss (Tom Bateman) who manages the contents of his son’s lunchbox as obsessively as he does his drug empire, to his Native American rival who conducts his business out of a chandelier-strewn old theatre. Elsewhere, a flunky who – sounding like he’s wandered in from a ’90s Tarantino movie – delivers a long monologue about a sex trick involving 20 dollar bills and cleaning ladies. Everybody in this film has a quirk.
Cold Pursuit would be more fun if it were less insistent on its own madness. It can’t let a joke go unexplained or allow a visual gag to sit in the background when it can move it to the foreground and put a spotlight on it. Take its lead character’s name, Coxman. Anybody could work out the double-entendre in that, but Cold Pursuit has a character laboriously lay it out. We all know what they say about the quality of a joke if you need to explain it. Tonally, the film can be strange, the action-thriller rhythms of its editing out of sync with the silliness of the script. It’s like a joke being told by someone who didn’t entirely get it themselves.
If its delivery is strained, there is still a lot about Cold Pursuit to enjoy. It moves so quickly through its killings (Coxman’s tracking down of his next victim never takes more than a few minutes in such a small town) that it’s rarely dull. When an actor under rather than overplays the dialogue, like William Forsythe as Coxman’s ex-hoodlum brother, it’s infinitely more effective. Not all its bits land, but enough do. Cold Pursuit is ‘the nutty Liam Neeson thriller’ and it would be so much better if it let us see that for ourselves instead of self-consciously whacking us round the face with it.