Movie Review: “Cold Pursuit,” a chilly, sadistic watered-down remake

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So what’s Liam Neeson’s MOVIE like?

“Cold Pursuit” was the subject he was supposed to be talking up when the ex-boxer revealed his deepest, darkest thoughts about revenge and race at an awful moment in his distant past. Everybody’s weighed in on that.

I’m from Virginia. I’m just relieved he wasn’t photographed in blackface.

The movie? Well, it’s earned raves from people reviewing it before he cast that pall over it, but more importantly, by reviewers who apparently never saw the superior Norwegian version of this morbidly mordant tale of creative, bloody revenge in the snow.

I’m a huge fan of the original film, “In Order of Disappearance,” which was one of the ten best movies of 2016 I thought. So I was keenly aware of being at a disadvantage seeing “Pursuit.”

It’s not just that remembering the story — a sturdy, steady rural snowplow operator’s son is murdered, and so he kills his way up the mob ladder to get to the gangster who ordered the hit — weighs on the picture and makes the film play slower. From its generic title to the forced, over-reaching laughs (the biggest failing) and the sadistic bent Neeson gives a character who seemed to be more buttoned down, making it up as he went and getting in over his head repeatedly when Stellan Skarsgard played “the snowplow Man,” “Pursuit” feels like an inferior knock-off.

Hell, I even mentioned Neeson in my review of “Disappearance,” way back when, suggesting how NOT to cast/remake this. The Irish man-mountain is too often cast as someone with “particular skills,” when the glory in Skarsgard’s out-of-his-depth turn is how it takes on a DIY whimsy even as he’s going down a deadly path of no return. Conversely, it’s no surprise that the gigantic ex-boxer is capable of violence.

Still, it’s not a terrible thriller and Neeson is solid, as always, in it.

The same director, Hans Petter Moland, shows up to put Neeson through his “Taken” paces. The setting is in the mountains outside of Denver instead of Norway. The character’s name has been changed from “Nils Dickman” to “Nels Coxman,” a limp joke (ahem). We see more of what happened to the son, unraveling that mystery more readily.

Laura Dern plays the wife/mother who is broken by their son’s death. The wife’s madness over that loss is what drives the snowplow man over the edge as well, grabbing his hunting rifle and considering suicide before figuring revenge is a dish best served ice cold. Here, that wife motivating the husband hook is watered down.

“We didn’t know our son!”

Coxman gets a name from a surviving friend of his son’s. From Dante he goes after Speedo, Speedo to Limbo, Limbo to Santa.

Each is commemorated, post mortem, with a black screen inter-title topped by a cross (or Star of David), their “real” name, upon their death or as the first film succinctly put it, “In Order of Disappearance.”

“What IS it with the nicknames?” he asks his brother (William Forsythe), a rich and retired made man from the local mob scene. Windex and Mustang and Bone have yet to be contended with. The Eskimo is the nickname of an African American hitman (Arnold Pinnock).

“You want somebody ‘iced,’ you call The Eskimo.”

The villain in chief is Viking (Tom Bateman, not bad), who inherited the mob which Coxman is picking off. He’s a micro-managing “businessman” going through a divorce (Julia Jones) as he obsesses on his bullied son’s (Nicholas Holmes) diet.

Emmy Rossum plays a young cop who sees a gang war erupting in tiny Kehoe, Colorado, which her grizzled partner (John Doman) doesn’t want to see.

The cleverest ingredient in the adaptation is changing the rival gang that gets mixed up in this slaughter from the Serbian mob to a local Native American drug gang. Tom Jackson is White Bull, their leader, who issues a thunderous call to arms when his son, too, is killed in the mayhem. It’s the most emotional moment in the movie, pretty much the only one.

I laughed all the way through “Order,” but barely found an amusing moment in “Pursuit.” The first film was dry and kind of droll in its over-the-top the violence and ways Skarsgard’s Dickman stumbled into it. This is just business as usual for a Neeson film, savage bloody violence with teeth-and-nose-busting fists, bloody streaks on the snow as he hauls corpses to the raging river to make them disappear.

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A favorite early moment, Nels Coxman has beaten all he can out of a low-level mobster, and with just a look, Neeson lets us see what Coxman is figuring out. He can’t leave this guy to ID him, can’t have that sort of unfinished business interrupting his hunt. He decides to strangle him, and not being accomplished at that, struggles and makes a hash of that.

The terror of being chased through a canyon of snow banks by a snowplow is shown, but underdeveloped. The murders come in bursts, turning the middle acts of the movie into a sagging bore.

I didn’t hate “Cold Pursuit,” but it’s not the giddy darker-than-dark murder-comedy that “In Order of Disappearance” was, and that this film’s trailers (Memorably choreographed to “Don’t Fear the Reaper,” a MUCH better title, BTW) promised.

Fans of Neeson, who has no flair for comedy, even deadpan death comedy, will find this perfectly tolerable. But if you REALLY want to see this story done right, pursue the Norwegian original, “In Order of Disappearance.”

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MPAA Rating: R for strong violence, drug material, and some language including sexual references

Cast: Liam Neeson, Laura Dern, Tom Bateman, Emmy Rossum, William Forsyth, Tom Jackson.

Credits: Directed by Hans Petter Moland, script by Frank Baldwin, based on the Kim Fupz Aakeson script to the Norwegian movie, “In Order of Disappearance.” A Lionsgate release.

Running time: 1:58

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