Review: ‘ Shelter in Solitude,’ starring Siobhan Fallon Hogan, Dan Castellaneta, Robert Patrick, Peter Macon, Peter Hogan, Robb Banks and Fat Nick

October 14, 2023

by Carla Hay

Siobhan Fallon Hogan in “Shelter in Solitude” (Photo courtesy of Foxglove Entertainment)

“Shelter in Solitude”

Directed by Vibeke Muasya

Culture Representation: Taking place in 2020, in the fictional U.S. city of Trudyville, the dramatic film “Shelter in Solitude” has a predominantly white cast of characters (with a few and African Americans) representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: A down-on-her-luck bar owner, who has to temporarily shut down her bar because of the COVID-pandemic, takes a job as a prison guard, and she develops an unlkely friendship with a death row prisoner whose execution date is in a matter of days.

Culture Audience: “Shelter in Solitude” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of star Siobhan Fallon Hogan and movies about ordinary people in unusual situations.

Peter Macon in “Shelter in Solitude” (Photo courtesy of Foxglove Entertainment)

“Shelter in Solitude” is a little uneven when it awkwardly tries to balance comedy with the drama of the main story. Good acting saves what could have been a very trite movie about an unlikely friendship between a death row prisoner and a prison guard.

Directed by Vibeke Muasya and written by Siobhan Fallon Hogan, “Shelter in Solitude” (which takes place in 2020) has a meandering quality to it that might or might not turn off viewers. The movie’s trailer shows that the emotional core of the story is the friendship that develops between the prisoner and the prison guard. But that doesn’t happen until the last half of the movie.

Muyasa and Hogan previously collaborated on the 2021 dramatic film “Rushed,” which was written by Hogan and in which Hogan starred as a mother seeking justice for her teenage son, who died in a fraternity hazing. Robert Patrick co-starred in “Rushed” as the husband of Fallon’s character. In “Shelter in Solitude,” Fallon and Patrick portray siblings Val Fagin and Dwayne Fagin in the fictional city of Trudyville, which is in an unnamed state in the U.S. South. (Hogan, who’s really from the New York/New Jersey area, has a contrived Southern twang that she plays to the hilt in this movie.)

In the beginning of the story, Val (a bachelorette in her 60s with no children) is trying not to feel like a failure. When she was in her 20s, she moved to Nashville to try to make it big as a country singer. It didn’t work out, and now she’s being making a modest living as the owner of a bar called Val’s Tavern, where she occasionally gets up on stage and sings. Val has owned Val’s Tavern for the past 29 years. She can get rowdy when she’s drunk.

As shown early in the movie, Val has a tendency to have meaningless hookups with men who are no good for her. One of them is Kevin (played by Michael Oberholtzer), a musician who’s young enough to be her son and who plays guitar whenever she needs a band to perform with on stage. Kevin’s father was a meth addict, and it’s implied that Kevin has substance abuse problems too. Real-life rapper Robb Banks and musician Fat Mike have cameos in the movie, with Banks as a drug dealer and Fat Mike as a rapper.

Val’s protective brother Dwayne gets in a fight with Kevin at the bar because Dwyane doesn’t think Kevin respects Val. Another person who looks out for Val (but doesn’t get invovled in her love life) is a local cop named Chris Sullivan, also known as Officer Chrissy (played by Peter Hogan), who is easygoing and friendly, but doesn’t have much to do in this movie. (Peter Hogan is Siobhan Fallon Hogan’s real-life son, so it looks like this was a nepotism role.)

Dwayne is the warden of the local prison, but his life is also a lonely mess. Dwayne, who is a divorced father, is still bitter that his ex-wife left him because Dwayne is impotent. Dwayne pays child support and complains that he doesn’t get to see his underage kids as much as he would like to because his ex-wife won’t let him. There are hints that Dwayne cheated on his ex-wife, which was probably the main reason for the divorce.

At the prison, a mild-mannered prison guard named Sam (played Dan Castellaneta) is quitting to retire, after 32 years on the job. Dwayne is preoccupied with finding a replacement for Sam. Another big concern for Dwayne is the upcoming execution of a death-row prisoner named Jackson (played by Peter Macon), who is asking the state governor for clemency to stop the execution. Jackson is on death row for brutally murdering a man, but Jackson claims that the killing was in self-defense.

Jackson’s upcoming execution is all over the local news, but something even bigger happens that takes over the news: the COVID-19 pandemic and the shutdowns of “non-essential” businesses that require in-person contact. Val’s Tavern is ordered to be shut down. Val was already financially struggling (she had to borrow $200 from Dwayne because she was late on mortgage payment because she had to pay for a leaky roof), and now she’s losing her Val’s Tavern income for an unknown period of time.

When Val hears about Sam retiring from his prison job, Val’s solution to her problem is to get a job as a prison guard to replace Sam at the prison where Dwayne works, even though Val has no training or experience in this job. She’s able to convince Dwayne to hire her because she knows he has the power to do it without anyone questioning him. The prison is so behind-the-times, it doesn;t even have a computer system.

On her first day on the job, Val meets Jackson, who is standoffish and refuses to speak to her at first. Slowly but surely, Val is able to get Jackson to open up and trust her. Jackson, who is a divorced father, tells her about his adult daughter Eveyln, whom he has been writing letters to while he’s been in prison. And when Val hears Jackson’s story about the crime that landed him on death row, she becomes emotionally invested in preventing his execution.

“Shelter in Solitude” leaves any previous comedic tone behind when it gets to this part of the story. Val starts to see that her problems are nowhere near as big as Jackson’s problems, while Jackson begins to understand that not everyone who works in law enforcement is the enemy. There is no romantic attraction between Val and Jackson. They unexpectedly find comfort in each other as friends.

Val and Jackson are both tough and tender in different ways. Siobhan Fallon Hogan and Macon give solidly capable performances. The best scenes in the movie are when their characters Val and Jackson are just talking. “Shelter in Solitude” adeptly shows that quiet conversations can led to powerful moments in connecting with other people.

Foxglove Entertainment released “Shelter in Solitude” in select U.S. cinemas on October 6, 2023.

Review: ‘Rushed,’ starring Siobhan Fallon Hogan and Robert Patrick

September 7, 2021

by Carla Hay

Siobhan Fallon Hogan (far left) and Robert Patrick (center) in “Rushed” (Photo courtesy of Vertical Entertainment)


Directed by Vibeke Muasya

Culture Representation: Taking place in upstate New York and other parts of the United States, the dramatic film “Rushed” features a predominantly white group of people (with some African Americans and Latinos) representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: After her teenage son dies during a college fraternity hazing party where he was forced to drink too much drug-laced alcohol, a grieving mother goes on a cross-country trip to interview other mothers who lost their sons in similar incidents, so that she can convince politicians to change the laws for fraternity hazing.

Culture Audience: “Rushed” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in movies about avenging parents and criminal justice, and are open to stories that don’t follow the usual clichés.

A scene from “Rushed” featuring Justin Linville (second from left), Jay Jay Warren (third from left) and Jake Weary (center, on balcony). (Photo courtesy of Vertical Entertainment)

Although it will make many viewers uncomfortable, “Rushed” succeeds in its aim to not be a stereotypical movie about a mother trying to seek justice for her child who died an unnecessary and tragic death. “Rushed” starts out one way and it ends in an entirely different way. Viewers will either like or dislike the plot twist, but one thing that viewers can agree on is that is “Rushed” offers a very unsettling but realistic portrait of how grief can affect people in different ways.

Directed with simmering tension by Vibeke Muasya, “Rushed” features a memorable performance by Siobhan Fallon Hogan, who wrote the “Rushed” screenplay. The movie isn’t perfect, but the emotions and characters’ personalities seem very true-to-life. It’s very much meant to be a film where a lot of viewers can relate to at least one of the characters.

Hogan portrays Barbara O’Brien, a seemingly average middle-aged, middle-class homemaker who lives in upstate New York. Barbara and her husband Jim O’Brien (played by Robert Patrick) have four teenage children. Oldest child Jimmy (played by Jay Jay Warren) is 18 or 19 and in his first year at the fictional New York State University, where he lives on campus during the school year. The other three children live at home with the parents: daughter Ciara (played by Ellie Frankel), who’s about 16; daughter Kelly (played by Lily Rosenthal), who’s about 15; and son Sean (played by Liam Hogan), who’s about 13.

The O’Briens are a tight-knit Irish American Catholic family. Barbara is so religious that she prays every day with a rosary, and she keeps a statue of St. Augustine in the kitchen, where she prays next to the statue with a lighted candle on a regular basis. Even though chain-smoking Barbara (who is a homemaker) is a devout Catholic, she has some contradictions because she also frequently curses, which is against her religious beliefs. Her kids like to tease her about this dichotomous side to her personality.

Barbara is kind of a scatterbrain who has a tendency to talk out loud to herself. She’s always on the go and is at the center of all the organizing in this busy household. For the kids who live at home, Barbara is the one who usually makes sure that they are awake in time in the morning so they won’t be late for school. She makes everyone’s meals, and she drives the children to school and picks them up when school is done for the day. The kids who live at home go to a Catholic school where they have to wear school uniforms.

As for Jimmy, living away from home for the first time has given him more freedom but has also put him at risk for more danger. He’s decided to pledge the same fraternity that his father pledged when his father was a university student. The opening scene of “Rushed” foreshadows how brutal things will get during the hazing process that is ruled over by the current fraternity members and their president. The pledges, including Jimmy, are led into in a secluded wooded area at night, and they are forced to drink liquor while blindfolded. Then, the fraternity members abandon the pledges in the woods, thereby forcing the pledges to find their own way back home.

Hazing for fraternities and sororities usually involves pledges having to endure humiliating and painful acts. It’s an initiation process that’s supposed to make the pledges “prove” how badly they want to be in the fraternity or sorority. However, hazing (which often involves alcohol and/or other drugs) can sometimes go too far. College hazing incidents that have resulted in people dying almost always happen with fraternities.

After the abandonment in the woods, Jimmy and the other pledges endure more hazing, such as having to crawl on broken glass and the fraternity members urinating on them, while everything is being filmed on frat members’ phones. Presiding over these abusive acts is fraternity president Steven Croission (played by Jake Weary), who is a sadistic bully who loves to dole out as much suffering as he can. Steven is also on a power trip because he thinks he can get away with whatever he wants to do.

Steven can see that Jimmy isn’t afraid to stand up to Steven, so Steven has targeted Jimmy to get the worst of the hazing. After being urinated on, Jimmy is furious and is close to quitting the pledging process. However, Jimmy’s nerdy and empathetic roommate Vergil (played by Justin Linville), who is also Jimmy’s best friend at school, is pledging the same fraternity and doesn’t want to feel all alone in the pledging process. Vergil convinces Jimmy not to quit because the pledging process will be over soon.

The day after the Jimmy almost quit pledging the fraternity, Barbara calls to check in on Jimmy while she’s driving Ciara and Kelly to school. Jimmy pretends to everyone that everything is going well for him at school. He gives absolutely no indication that the fraternity hazing is abusive, and he doesn’t mention the bloody injuries he sustained from crawling on broken glass.

The pledging process soon ends. Jimmy and Vergil and some other pledges find out that they’ve been accepted into the fraternity. To welcome their new members, the fraternity has a big party at the frat house. Steven is seen buying cocaine and Xanax from a drug dealer. This loathsome fraternity president hasn’t forgotten Jimmy’s “insubordination,” so he plans to get revenge on Jimmy.

In order to prevent certain people from filming what he plans to happen, Steven makes sure that certain people’s phones are confiscated when they first enter the party. Vergil and Jimmy are among those whose phones are taken away. They’re told that they will get their phones back when they leave the party.

At the party, Jimmy is drinking alcohol moderately and not doing any drugs. However, it isn’t long before Steven puts his plan into action. He spikes a beer with a combination of cocaine and Xanax. And then he cheerfully gives the beer to Jimmy, who drinks it and almost immediately vomits.

Things quickly spiral out of control from there. As a “prank,” Steven has ordered his fraternity underlings to duct tape Jimmy to a chair, where Jimmy is force-fed alcohol until he loses consciousness. Vergil desperately pleads to get his phone back so he can call for help, but Steven refuses. Everyone else at the party thinks what’s being done to Jimmy is hilarious because Steven makes it look like it’s “all in good fun.”

You know what happens next: Jimmy really isn’t okay. Only after Steven sees that Jimmy might be in a coma does he allow Vergil to have his phone back. Vergil calls 911, an ambulance arrives, and Jimmy never regains consciousness. Because the medical diagnosis is that he’s brain dead and will never be conscious again, his family makes the difficult decision to take him off of life support.

All of this is not spoiler information because it’s in the trailer for “Rushed,” and Jimmy death serves as the catalyst for what happens in the rest of the movie. The O’Brien family is devastated, with Barbara taking it the hardest. While her husband eventually goes back to work and the other kids go back to school, she spends her days and nights chain-smoking and hunched on the couch in a deep depression where she barely talks to anyone.

And the O’Briens get more bad news when they find out that separate investigations conducted by the police and by the university concluded that Jimmy death was an accident of his own doing. Barbara is outraged because she’s sure that Jimmy wouldn’t have consumed all of that alcohol willingly. Her husband Jim accepts the findings though and tells Barbara that they need to move on.

But one day, something happens that snaps Barbara out of her bleak existence. She sees a news article on the Internet about a college student who also died during a fraternity hazing incident. It leads her to start doing more research on the Internet. And she’s shocked to see how many other young men died in ways that were similar to how Jimmy died, with no one being held accountable except for the dead guys who were blamed for their own deaths.

This information fuels an outrage that motivates Barbara to do something to change the existing laws about fraternity hazing. It just so happens that Jim has a fraternity brother who is now a U.S. senator. His name is Senator Bob Daley (played by Jordan Lage), who takes Jim’s call when Jim tracks down the senator’s phone number.

Barbara talks to Senator Daley too. And he seems very sympathetic about the O’Briens’ tragic loss. The senator says he would like to help in any way that he can. Barbara says that she’ll take him up on his offer. And she’s got an idea that she thinks will help convince politicians to make a law against hazing.

Barbara decides go on a cross-country trip by car, to videorecord interviews that she conducts with parents (mostly mothers) who also lost their sons to university hazing incidents. It’s not an easy task, since many are reluctant to talk on camera. However, she usually gets the mothers to open up because she knows exactly how they feel.

Most of the parents are working-class and middle-class. However, two parents whom Barbara visits are wealthy. There’s a somewhat amusing part of the movie where Barbara just can’t get over how big this couple’s mansion is and she gushes about it on the phone to Jim. It’s a very realistic and funny scene.

The wealthy couple are not identified by their first names in the movie. They are called Mr. Donohue (played by Sean Cullen) and Mrs. Donohue (played by Peri Gilpin), who have very different views on their son’s death. Mr. Donohue is a member of the fraternity that his son was pledging, so he’s inclined to think it was a tragic accident. Mrs. Donohue is fairly certain that her son died of manslaughter or negligence. She agrees to make a statement on video, while her husband refuses.

The last third of the movie takes a very dark turn that might surprise a lot of viewers. However, there were signs that some of the extreme things that happen didn’t come from out of the blue. The impact of this movie rests on the ability to convince viewers that what happens in this plot twist could very well happen in real life. Muasya steers this movie in a way that will catch people off guard, just like Barbara’s life takes some twists and turns that she never imagined before Jimmy died.

Hogan’s portrayal of Barbara is heart-wrenching, but the movie doesn’t make her out to be a confident crusader who knows what she’s doing. If she’s flying blind into her mission, it’s because she’s blind from grief that won’t go away, no matter how many therapeutic interviews she does with parents who’ve lost a child in similar ways. Viewers might wonder why Barbara is willing to suddenly up and leave her family to take this road trip, but it’s a compulsion, just like her devotion to religious rituals, that’s very consistent with her personality.

If you’re looking for a formulaic TV-movie-of-the week conclusion to this story, you’ll have to look elswhere. “Rushed” is not going to give easy and trite answers to a very complex problem. The movie serves as a striking example of how even though people involved in hazing deaths often deny responsibility, the damage is felt in one way or another by those who were left behind.

Vertical Entertainment released “Rushed” in select U.S. cinemas, on digital and VOD on August 27, 2021.

Review: ‘The Protégé’ (2021), starring Maggie Q, Samuel L. Jackson and Michael Keaton

August 20, 2021

by Carla Hay

Samuel L. Jackson and Maggie Q in “The Protégé” (Photo by Jichici Raul/Lionsgate)

“The Protégé” (2021)

Directed by Martin Campbell

Culture Representation: Taking place in Vietnam, Bucharest and London, the action film “The Protégé” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with some Asians and a few African Americans) representing the wealthy, middle-class and people are linked to the criminal underworld.

Culture Clash: A skilled assassin is out for her revenge when she finds out that her mentor has been murdered.

Culture Audience: The Protégé” will appeal primarily to people who don’t mind watching formulaic and derivative action flicks.

Michael Keaton in “The Protégé” (Photo by Simon Varsano/Lionsgate)

“The Protégé” is as unimaginative as its title. What could have been a next-level action showcase for star Maggie Q is instead a boring and idiotic retread of so many other movies about assassins out for revenge. The “mystery” and “intrigue” storyline in this movie is almost non-existent, especially when a completely unbelievable plot twist is revealed.

And that begs the question: Why was this movie even made? It seems like a bunch of men (the producers, writer and director of “The Protégé” are all men) just wanted to throw their money around so that they could see Maggie Q (or whichever actress would end up getting the role) in tight clothing while she’s toting a gun and other weapons. There is no interesting plot; it’s just fight scenes at various locations.

Did any of “The Protégé” filmmakers ever see the 2011 American movie “Hanna” or the 2017 South Korean film “The Villainess”? It sure seems that way, because “The Protégé” borrows heavily from the plots of both assassin action films. “Hanna” is about the title character getting trained as an assassin as an underage child. “The Villainess” (which was inspired by 1990’s “La Femme Nikita”) is about a female assassin who witnessed her father getting murdered when she was hiding in a room as a child. “Hanna” and “The Villainess” are infinitely superior to “The Protégé,” which thinks that a few intricate stunts can make up for a weak and nonsensical plot.

In “The Protégé” (directed by Martin Campbell and written by Richard Wenk), Maggie Q plays Anna, an assassin who is originally from Da Nang, Vietnam. She became orphaned in 1991, when she was 11 years old, when she witnessed her family getting murdered while she hid somewhere in the home. It’s eventually revealed in a flashback that an American soldier named Moody (played by Samuel L. Jackson) found Anna hiding in an armoir in the home, and he decided to raise her without formally adopting her.

Moody’s time in the military ended, and he became an assassin who trained Anna on his killer techniques. He’s described in the film as a “legendary” assassin, yet he makes a lot of dumb mistakes and nonsensical decisions that no so-called “professional” would make. A lot of time is wasted in this movie jumping from location to location, with empty-headed fight scenes that are intended to distract from a plot that barely exists.

An an early sequence in “The Protégé” takes place in the Romanian capital of Bucharest, where a ruthless crime lord named Don Preda (played by Velizar Binev) is infuriated because his adult son Vali (played by George Pistereanu) has been kidnapped. By the way, Don has the nickname Donald the Butcher of Bucharest, as if that’s supposed to make viewers of this movie terrified That nickname just sounds like someone who could be a local butcher at a grocery store.

Anna and Moody are in Bucharest around the time that Vali was kidnapped. Some vicious fighting ensues, and some people get killed. Anna and Moody are then seen in London, where Maggie has a cover identity working as a sales clerk in a boutique bookstore that sells rare publications. It’s supposed to make her look like a smart character, but it’s all for nothing because this is a very dumb movie.

For reasons that are never really explained, Moody owns the bookstore. And he’s given the deed to Anna. It’s a foreshadowing that he thinks he’s going to die soon, but Anna appears too dense to notice this clue. To portray a tender “mentor/protégé” moment, the film has Anna and Moody celebrating his birthday by themselves. Anna gives him a gift that Moody doesn’t expect but is delighted to get: a 1958 Gibson Flying V guitar. The guitar becomes a plot device later in the movie.

One day, a mysterious and wealthy American businessman named Michael Rembrandt (played by Michael Keaton) goes into the bookstore because he says that he’s looking for a rare book. Anna recommends a book of poetry by Edgar Allan Poe. But by the way that Michael looks at Anna, it’s obvious he’s not really interested in any rare books. Sure enough, he asks Anna on a date, and she ends up going to his mansion, where more violent hijinks ensue.

Some other characters come into the mix in this messy and undercooked story. Anna and Moody know an informant named Benny, who works out of the back room of a laundromat. Another underground connection for Anna and Moody is a motorcycle gang leader named Billy Boy (played by Robert Patrick), who doesn’t have a lot of screen time in the movie.

There’s also a deaf, blind and mute man in his early 30s named Lucas Hayes (played by Dimitar Nikolov), whose father Edward Hayes (played by David Rintoul) has been assassinated. The murder of Edward happened after he was indicted for war crimes of illegally selling chemical weapons. There’s a murky subplot of Anna trying to find out what Lucas knows, but the filmmakers seem to make Lucas’ disabilities an absurdly cruel joke on Anna, as if to say: “Good luck finding out witness information from a deaf, blind and mute person.”

At one point in the movie, which can’t make up its mind what storyline it wants to focus on, Anna finds a bloody Moody, lying mutilated in his bathtub. The condition of his body indicates that he was murdered. And that means one thing after that: Anna is out for revenge against whoever killed Moody. Because “The Protégé” filmmakers think that globetrotting will make the movie look better than it really is, Anna ends up in Da Nang again.

There’s something that happens later in the movie which absolutely puts it into garbage filmmaking territory. Without giving away too much information, it’s enough to say that whenever plot twists like this happen, viewers are supposed to believe that medical examiners and coroner reports don’t exist, in order for someone to be declared dead and the cause of death. It’s a very lazy plot twist that makes no logical sense.

Meanwhile, because every cliché movie about a woman who’s an assassin seems to require that she has sex with someone who might or might not be her enemy, you can easily guess what will happen between Anna and Michael. Just like the fight scenes in “The Protégé,” the movie’s sex scene looks too calculated and robotic. This is the movie’s idea of foreplay dialogue, when Michael says to Anna: “Do you want to kill me or fuck me?”

“The Protégé” is the type of awful dreck that has this cringeworthy line that someone utters when pointing a gun at someone and commenting on the gun’s bullets: “I can put two in the back of your head and make a sandwich.” How about you take that sandwich and flush it down the toilet, just like how this movie was made?

All of the well-known actors in the movie (Maggie Q, Jackson, Keaton and Patrick) are just doing bland retreads of characters they’ve played before in better movies. Maggie Q certainly has what it takes to be a major action movie star. And some of the stunts she does in “The Protégé” are impressive.

But you need more than just stunts and action choreography to make a good movie. You need to have dialogue and a story that will make people care about the protagonists and what will happen to them. All the actors are given such dreadful lines that they look like they’re just going through the motions and have no real emotional connections to their character roles. When they’re not in fight scenes, the actors look bored. If “The Protégé” filmmakers didn’t care to make a good movie with such a talented cast, then you shouldn’t care to watch it.

Lionsgate released “The Protégé” in U.S. cinemas on August 20, 2021.

Review: ‘Honest Thief,’ starring Liam Neeson

October 17, 2020

by Carla Hay

Kate Walsh and Liam Neeson in “Honest Thief” (Photo courtesy of Open Road Films)

“Honest Thief”

Directed by Mark Williams

Culture Representation: Taking place in the Boston area, the action-crime thriller “Honest Thief” has a predominantly white cast (with a few Latinos and African Americans) representing the middle-class.

Culture Clash: A notorious bank robber battles with FBI agents when he decides to turn himself into authorities.

Culture Audience: “Honest Thief” will appeal primarily to people who don’t mind watching predictable thrillers that have a lot of credibility issues.

Anthony Ramos and Jai Courtney in “Honest Thief” (Photo courtesy of Open Road Films) 

If there’s an action drama with Liam Nesson as the star, then you can bet that his character in the movie is out for revenge. The problem is that Neeson has made so many of these types of “revenge movies” that they all blend together after a while, except for the “Taken” franchise which is its own separate beast. Therefore, it’s understandable if viewers really can’t tell one Neeson pulpy thriller from the next one. At least with “Honest Thief,” the title is a reminder of what type of character Neeson portrays in the movie. The film’s title might be distinctive, but the movie’s mediocre plot and action definitely are as generic and unimaginative as they can be.

In “Honest Thief” (directed by Mark Williams), Neeson plays Tom Dolan, also known as Tom Carter, a notorious bank robber whose modus operandi is to set off explosives to open a safe in a bank while the bank is closed for business. (Tom lives in the Boston area, and Neeson keeps his native Irish accent for this role.) Tom always chooses banks with older safes (which are easier to open) and which are located next to vacant buildings, so the explosives won’t affect a building next door that has an active business.

Tom has robbed 12 banks in seven states over the past eight years. His total robbery haul is about $9 million, and he’s been successfully able to elude capture for all of these years. Law enforcement has no idea who the bank robber is, and the bank robber is nicknamed the In and Out Bandit by the media, because of how quickly and efficiently he commits the crimes.

But Tom’s life is about to change when he meets Annie Wilkins (played by Kate Walsh), who works as a clerk at a place that rents storage units. Tom goes there to rent a medium-sized unit, which viewers can immediately tell is where he’s going to hide money that he stole from the bank robberies. Tom and Annie flirt a little during this transaction, which indicates that Annie might just become more than a passing encounter.

The movie then fast forwards to one year later. Annie and Tom are now a couple, and they are looking at a big house that Tom is going to purchase in Newton, Massachusetts. Tom then surprises Annie by asking her to move in with him. She’s hesitant because she’s still recovering from a traumatic divorce and is very reluctant to take her relationship with Tom to the level of “live-in partner.”

Annie hasn’t lived with anyone since her divorce. As she tells Tom, “I just don’t want to go through that again.” Tom tells her, “You won’t have to.” And because Annie really likes the house and seems to really love Tom, she then changes her mind and says yes. Annie is studying psychology to become a therapist, which is a skill she’s going to need when she has to deal with all the crazy things that happen to her in this movie.

But what about Tom’s secret life as a bank robber? He’s about to come clean and face the consequences. While staying at the Charleston Hotel, Tom calls the FBI’s Boston office and confesses that he’s the bank robber called the In and Out Bandit. He also mentions that he hates that nickname because he thinks it’s tacky, as if that’s something he should be concerned about in the moment that he confesses to his serious crimes.

The FBI agent who talks to Tom on the phone is Agent Sam Baker (played by Robert Patrick), who listens to Tom’s confession with a great deal of skepticism. Tom tells Baker that he will turn himself in and give back all the money that he stole, on the conditions that he serve a reduced sentence with a maximum of two years, and it must be at a minimum-security prison that’s near Boston.

Baker almost laughs when he tells Tom that the law doesn’t work that way, but Tom stands firm on his demands. When Baker asks Tom why he’s confessing, Tom says it’s because he met a special woman, he can no longer live with the guilt of his big secret, and he wants to start a new life with her after he serves his prison time. Tom hasn’t robbed any banks since he fell in love with Annie.

Tom tells Baker that he’s at the Charleston Hotel in Room 216. Baker then tells Tom that he will look into Tom’s claims, but Baker comments that the FBI has gotten a lot of false confessions from people claiming to be the In and Out Bandit. Tom insists that he’s telling the truth about being the real In and Out Bandit. (And he is.)

While Baker is taking this call, he’s sitting across from his colleague Agent Myers (played by Jeffrey Donavan), who’s even more hard-nosed and more cynical than Baker. Both men have a lot of respect for each other though. Myers considers Baker to be his mentor and closest friend in the FBI.

There’s a minor running joke in the movie that Myers often has his small white-and-brown dog named Tazzie with him. It’s a dog that he doesn’t really want, but he got the dog in a bitter divorce from his ex-wife, who got to keep their former marital home. And, out of spite, he doesn’t want to give the dog back to his ex-wife. Myers doesn’t mistreat the dog, but Tazzie is often seen tagging along with Myers in places that you wouldn’t expect to see a small dog during an intense FBI operation.

The dog’s presence is one of the few semi-humorous things in “Honest Thief,” which takes itself way too seriously for being such a formulaic and substandard movie. (“Honest Thief” director Williams co-wrote the movie’s screenplay with Steve Allrich.) There’s plenty of action, but much of it has so many unrealistic consequences, that anyone watching this movie will have to drop any expectations that “Honest Thief” is nothing more than a cheap retread of Neeson’s other “anti-hero” rampage movies, where he gets angry at certain people and won’t stop until they’re all injured or killed.

Agent Baker thinks that Tom is just another crackpot giving a false confession, so he hands off the report to two subordinate FBI agents named Agent Pete Nivens (played by Jai Courtney) and Agent Mario Hall (played by Anthony Ramos). Nivens is single and very ambitious in his career. Hall is a happily married man with a young son.

The difference between these two men becomes obvious when Nivens complains to Hall about how parents unnecessarily gush about their children to make childless people feel like they’re missing out in life. Nivens basically tells Hall that he thinks being a parent is overrated. Later in the movie, Nivens (who thinks of himself as an “alpha male”) repeatedly manipulates Hall by using Hall’s love for his son as a way for Nivens to get Hall to do what Nivens wants.

Nivens and Hall go to the Charleston Hotel to visit Tom and investigate Tom’s claims. Tom tells these two FBI agents that he hid the robbery money in a storage unit and offers to show it to them as proof. However, Nivens orders Tom to stay at the hotel and says that he and Hall will go to the storage unit by themselves. Tom reluctantly gives them the key to the storage unit and tells them where the storage unit is.

Nivens and Hall go to Tom’s storage unit and find out that Tom was telling the truth, because they find millions of dollars in cash hidden in boxes. Nivens then convinces a reluctant Hall that they should steal all the money for themselves and pretend to everyone else that the money was never there. Nivens appeals to Hall’s desire to be able to pay for whatever his family wants, as a way to persuade Hall that he will never have any more money problems for the rest of his life.

Nivens and Hall are packing up the boxes of cash in their car trunk when Annie suddenly approaches them to ask what they’re doing with Tom’s stuff. Annie mentions that she saw them on the office’s surveillance cameras, and she came outside to investigate. Nivens and Hall lie and tell Annie that Tom asked them to help move some of his items from the storage unit.

Because Tom had told Annie that he was temporarily staying at a hotel due to plumbing repairs in his home, she believes want Nivens and Hall have to say. Even though Annie is suspicious, she asks a lot of leading questions that are easy for the crooked FBI agents to lie about, such as, “How do you know Tom? Did you serve in the Marines with him?” And, of course, they say yes.

Putting aside the fact that they know they’ve been caught on camera taking things out of the storage locker, the stupidity of Nivens and Hall’s decision to steal the money also comes from the fact that they wouldn’t be able to spend all that money without arousing suspicion. And who knows if that stolen bank money has bills that are marked? These are things that FBI agents and other law-enforcement officials are trained to know about, but the corrupt FBI dimwits in this sloppily written movie don’t consider these very realistic factors.

And not to mention that a snake like Nivens wouldn’t hesitate to double-cross his partner in crime, so Hall is incredibly naïve for putting his trust in Nivens. Hall finds out how much of a loose cannon Nivens can be when something happens after Hall and Nivens get back to the hotel and they lie to Tom by saying that they didn’t find any money in the storage unit. What happens next in the hotel sets off a chain of events that lead to Tom going on the run, Annie getting caught up in the danger, and certain FBI agents chasing in dogged pursuit.

When there’s a movie as poorly thought-out as “Honest Thief,” sometimes it can be entertaining because of the action sequences. But the action in “Honest Thief” is very unremarkable and has been seen in dozens of other movies just like it. People get beaten up, there are some explosions, some car chases, some shootouts, some chases on foot. And there are lots of scenes where Neeson just barrels along with injuries that, in real life, would put someone in an emergency room at a hospital.

“Honest Thief” is just another unimpressive action showcase for Neeson as yet another angry and misunderstood loner who’s out for self-righteous vengeance while he goes through the expected motions with gun violence and other predictable stunts. Neeson has been sticking to this formula for quite some time for his action films, so most of his fans should know what to expect. Anyone expecting high-quality entertainment from “Honest Thief” will definitely feel cheated.

Open Road Films released “Honest Thief” in U.S. cinemas on October 16, 2020.

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