Counterfeit entertainment defines Liam Neeson’s latest action star vehicle, Mark Williams’ Honest Thief. It looks and feels like a typical Neeson vigilante spree, but this thriller trades payback grit for everlasting romance. Neeson plays Tom Carter, referred to by Boston local media as the “In-and-Out Bandit,” a name prompting hilarious grunts of disgust from our antihero. Not to be confused with the Hamburglar, Carter’s intricate heists target bank vaults only he can crack — the aging criminal is a former Marines demolitions expert. Serving himself instead of his country not only provides more financial reward, but it also gives Tom a new perspective on the nation’s massive corporate greed problem.
Even though his line of work has turned into an undeniable art, this bandit is ready to hang up his mask for good. Straight and narrow sounds awfully promising once Tom meets storage facility manager Annie Sumpter (Kate Walsh). While attempting to hide his double life, Tom discovers that love is the only valuable worth capturing. After one year together, Annie is an exam or two away from a graduate degree in psychology, while Tom uses previous savings to invest in a down payment for a new home. The dirty millions in his storage unit will be kept on locked standby as bargain material for the deal he plans to strike before turning himself in.
Despite knowing he might lose Annie by confessing his true identity, Tom is guided by a moral obligation to absolve his guilt and allow justice to be rightfully served. His plea to the FBI: two-years maximum time served with guarantee of parole. For investigators Tom Meyers (Jeffrey Donavan) and Sam Baker (Robert Patrick), this could just be another attention-seeking scam like all the rest. To determine his confession’s validity, the two senior personnel send field agents John Nivens (Jai Courtney) and Ramon Hall (Anthony Ramos) to meet with Tom.
Unsurprisingly, the negotiation breaks down with betrayal and shots fired. Nivens convinces Ramon to abandon all principles and help make off with some of the stolen millions. Listen, evidence room custodians aren’t infallible by any means, but even they are bound to notice such a large sum missing. Dirty feds are nothing new and more believably corrupt now than ever before, but this villain twist pulls from the old handbook of inconveniencing protagonists as much as possible. The usually tremendous Ramos checks out fast, palpably unconvinced by his character’s quick abandonment of conscience. For Courtney, it’s another one-dimensional bad guy role who bulldozes through every scene like a destructive tank.
Shoddy editing and continuity errors cheapen Neeson’s usual high-adrenaline appeal. Even with an inane plot, a Liam Neeson action-thriller could always be counted on to create the illusion of urgency. Technical missteps and awkward attempts at humor by Neeson blotch what should be an enthralling story about a former criminal warding off corruption to clear his name of a crime he didn’t commit. Neeson’s attempts to soften his hardened exterior seem unnatural, making Tom Carter one of the biggest letdowns in the Academy Award nominee’s career. When it comes to Liam Neeson’s current Hollywood reputation, showing restraint is antithetical to the expectations he’s defied for actors of a certain age.