Liam Neeson plays a vengeful Colorado snowplow driver in Norwegian director Hans Petter Moland’s thriller “Cold Pursuit” (***1/2 OUT OF ****) who clashes with the gang of dastardly drug traffickers that murdered his innocent adult son.  Eventually, this bereaved father finds himself caught in a blazing crossfire between two rival drug gangs.  The gang that murdered our hero’s son screws up royally when they bump off the son of a rival gang boss by mistake.  Now, the rival gang craves blood.  Not only does one mob want our hero dead, but another mob also tries to rub out the mob that wants to ice our hero. Ever since “Taken” in 2009, Neeson has toplined several serviceable actioneers about either revenge-driven dads or tight-lipped tough guys.  He followed up “Taken” with “Taken 2” (2012) and then “Taken 3” (2014).  Earlier, Neeson had commanded the movie version of “The A-Team” (2010), co-starring Bradley Cooper and Sharlto Copley.  He played a former Boston cop in “A Walk Among the Tombstones” (2014), while he was cast as a mobster in “Run All Night” (2015).

Life in the “Cold Pursuit” universe is both desolate and demanding.  As the distraught father, Nils Coxman (Liam Neeson) loses not only his son but also his wife. Based on the original Norwegian film “In Order of Disappearance” (2014), “Cold Pursuit” chronicles similar events, duplicates the same primary characters, but supplements this saga with more subversive humor.  The biggest departure for director Hans Petter Moland in his own remake of his earlier film is the narrative global shift from Norway to Colorado.  The two heroes–Stellan Skarsgård and Neeson—share more in common than the villains who differ in greater ways.  The drug dealer’s ex-wife in “Cold Pursuit” behaves like Alice in the “Resident Evil” franchise.  She knows how to yank the words out of her ex-husband’s mouth.

An aura of gravity distinguishes “Cold Pursuit” from the typical white-knuckled, testosterone-laden, revenge movie.  As he comes to grips with his son’s death, Nils puts the barrel of his hunting rifle in his mouth, crooks his finger on the trigger, and is poised to blast away.  Nils pauses, removes his rifle from his mouth, and decides to annihilate the fiends who murdered his son rather than commit suicide.  Rarely do we see a mainstream revenge hero contemplate suicide.  Charles Bronson would have scoffed and commenced the bloodletting.  The passage of her son, Kyle (Micheál Richardson of “Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues”), devastates Grace. Drowning in grief from this tragedy, Grace leaves Nils, never to return. Her farewell message is an eloquent blank note.  Their marriage collapses, a casualty of the murder.  “Citizen Ruth” actress Laura Dern, who plays Grace, doesn’t stick around long enough to make a memorable impression. Her role could be classified as a supporting character.  Meantime, the local police investigate.  Later, they learn through sources in Denver, Colorado, that Kyle was innocent.  Gang leader Trevor ‘Viking’ Calcote (Tom Bateman of “Murder on the Orient Express”) and his bloodthirsty henchmen wasted the wrong guy. They gave Kyle an overdose of heroin and left him to die on the street.  Naturally, Nils is stunned when Denver authorities stigmatize his son as a junkie.  Refusing defiantly to believe this outrage, our hero embarks on his vengeance-fueled rampage.

Nils keeps the roads open with a 38-ton vehicle that carves a trench out of the smooth winter landscape, gushing snow like a wood-burning locomotive, as he scrapes through it.  He learns from one of Kyle’s low-life friends, Dante (Wesley MacInnes of “Power Rangers”), the names of Viking’s crew.  Nils tracks them down, and he kills each with his bare hands and brute force.  He discovers killing is a ghoulish business, and death doesn’t come easily, especially when he strangles a thug called Speedo.  Just as he thinks he has killed Speedo, Nils learns the creep is still breathing, and he must resume strangling him.  Initially, an enraged Viking believes a rival gang of Ute Indians, who deal narcotics, are to blame.  Viking’s henchmen murder the son of a Ute tribal chieftain, and they drape his body contemptuously on a road sign for all to see.  This sparks a gang war.  Meantime, after he has liquidated three of Viking’s men, Nils hires a hit man, the Eskimo (Arnold Pinnock of “Exit Wounds”), to assassinate Viking.  Eskimo takes Nils’ $90-thousand to kill Viking, but he treacherously informs on him to Viking. Viking kills Nils’ older brother, Brock (William Forsythe of “Extreme Prejudice”), by mistake.  Indeed, Viking knew nothing about Brock’s younger brother. It seems Brock hated Viking’s father who had run the gang before Viking replaced him. By this time, the vindictive Utes have invaded Viking’s turf.  These fearless Utes plan to kidnap Viking’s elementary school age son for payback. Before the snow covers their corpses, the two rival gangs have shot each other to ribbons, while our taciturn hero emerges unscathed.  “Cold Pursuit” concludes with a surprise that will make you chuckle, despite all the murderous mayhem that precedes it.

Comparatively, “In Order of Disappearance” and its remake “Cold Pursuit” are virtually identical. Like Stellan Skarsgård in the original,” Liam Neeson cannot attach his cuff links without his wife’s help.  Watching Neeson juggle the two cuff links ineffectually in his hands after Grace has left him later is compelling stuff.  The cold, cruel, Colorado landscape and the implacable fury of all three parties struggling to slay each other is off-set by the recurring ironic humor in freshman scribe Frank Baldwin’s screenplay. The inquisitive, local female cop that Emily Rossum plays evokes memories of the pregnant cop in the snow-swept Cohen Brothers’ crime procedural “Fargo.” Director Hans Petter Moland leaves much of the killing to your imagination. For the record, “Cold Pursuit” isn’t the first revenge thriller where the hero utilized a larger-than-life vehicle to eliminate his adversaries. In the low-budget “Rolling Vengeance” (1987), the hero equipped his eight-ton truck to exact revenge against the men who killed his family and raped his girlfriend. Check out other Planet Weekly Reviews:


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