A beat-by-beat remake of the 2014 Norwegian thriller “In Order of Disappearance,” director Hans Petter Moland’s “Cold Pursuit” puts Liam Neeson behind the wheel of a snowplow with vengeance on his mind. Had the film been made back in the ‘60s, with less gore and fewer corpses, the theoretical theme song would’ve included that lyric: “Behind the wheel of a snowplow/With vengeance on his mind …”
Enough facetiousness. “Cold Pursuit” has enough of its own facetiousness for a dozen jokey Tarantino-knockoff carnage festivals. Shot in British Columbia, “Cold Pursuit” litters its bodies all around the fictional Colorado ski town of Kehoe, where taciturn Nels Coxman (Neeson) keeps the roads clear and earns the respect of his fellow townsfolk. Life is orderly and Nels’ blandly supportive spouse (Laura Dern, barely given the time to talk) functions as a frontier wife, mutely in tune with her man’s strong, silent persona.
Then, in the spirit of “Taken,” someone robs our hero of a loved one. Nels’ grown son (Micheal Richardson, Neeson’s real-life offspring) turns up dead, the apparent victim of a heroin overdose. The rest of the movie follows Nels as he dispatches round after round of low-level drug dealers, en route to nailing Mr. Big, the tightly wound sociopath known as Viking. This control freak, who has serious custody issues with his ex-wife (Julia Jones), is played by Tom Bateman, having tons of fun overacting. Approximately 30 percent of it is fun for the audience.
Screenwriter Frank Baldwin follows the Norwegian film’s antic comic flourishes, capping each new killing with an on-screen headstone marker. The Colorado re-setting allows for a few topical references to legalized marijuana and the introduction of Native American thugs and cartel heads.
The movie delivers, in its chosen way. But it’s a soulless way. The violence may be for laughs, and many Neeson fans will likely respond to the larky brutality of “Cold Pursuit,” which is very different from the star’s previous mid-winter vehicles (“The Grey” is my favorite). But I don’t get much psychic recreation from this sort of action movie. In the original, Stellan Skarsgard played the avenging snow angel, and with him, at least, you got the sense of a solid if vaguely unsettling citizen unraveling, by degrees, one killing at a time. With Neeson it’s different: He’s like the wedge at the front of his own plow, taking care of business efficiently, and not for a moment anything resembling human.
Michael Phillips is a Tribune critic.
“Cold Pursuit” — 1.5 stars
MPAA rating: R (for strong violence, drug material and some language including sexual references)
Running time: 1:58
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