“A Walk Among the Tombstones” has the veneer of high mindedness that the “Taken” movies lack. But it has Neeson’s Alcoholics Anonymous detective hanging out with a slang-cracking kid sidekick(Astro) and working for a drug dealer played by that “Downton Abbey” fussbudget, Dan Stevens, an effeminate Brit with nothing of the vengeful drug dealer about him.
So all the money was spent on Neeson. The plot has psych-homosexual elements straight out of the 1950s. The violence against women is horrific and the setting, for no serious reason, is 1999 as America braces for the Y2K bug.
Aside from that, though, it’s just great. Well, kind of OK.
Neeson’s Matthew Scudder was a hard-drinking cop in the early ’90s when an off duty shootout led him to quit the force. Now he’s an “unlicensed” problem-solver. Sort of like Denzel Washington in the upcoming and superior “The Equalizer.”
“Sometimes I do favors for people. Sometimes, in return, they give gifts.”
Stevens is Kenny, a “drug trafficker” whose wife was snatched and murdered. He wants the guys who did it.
So Scudder does the shoe-leather work he would have done as a cop, had the drug trafficker wanted cops involved. He asks around.
A weirdo cemetery groundskeeper (Ólafur Darri Ólafsson) figures in the story. And he stumbles into the kid, T.J., a whiz at these newfangled personal computers. Every line out of Astro-the-actor’s mouth sounds like…a line.
Writer-director Scott Frank spares us actually seeing the bodies of these women — for the guys doing the killing are serial killers — hacked up. But there’s audio and graphic descriptions from the psychopaths, whom we meet early on.
Frank, who did the far superior thriller, “The Lookout,” objectifies one underage victim — setting her stalking to a golden oldie “Atlantis” by Donovan. His villains are sniggering caricatures out of an earlier age.
And he utterly fails to build Scudder’s AA mania into the plot until the third act, losing track of this aspect of his life to make room for more cutesie T.J. slang-jokes about how “I want to grow up to be a private eye like Sam Spade.”
Neeson is the rock anchoring all this, making the incredible at least passably credible as he lurches into the frame with his limping boxer’s gait. But you get the sense that he is no more “Taken” with this than we are.
MPAA Rating: R for strong violence, disturbing images, language and brief nudity
Cast: Liam Neeson, Dan Stevens, Astro, David Harbour
Credits: Written and directed by Scott Frank, based on the Lawrence Block novel. A Universal release.
Running time: 1:53