By Matt Mueller Culture Editor Published Mar 19, 2015 at 9:16 AM

Of all the problems with the new action thriller "Run All Night," the title may be the most damning. You hear a name like "Run All Night" – plus the men on the run premise – and you expect a high adrenaline, exhausted non-stop sprint to the finish, something like the 1979 Walter Hill classic "The Warriors" or the recent French cult hit "Sleepless Night." After all, the word run is right there in the title, and with a name like that and the premise to match, you want to be panting by the time the end credits roll.

"Run All Night," however, has other things on its mind. It has little interest in just simply delivering B-movie thrills; it wants to be taken seriously. It wants to be a drama about men – about fathers and sons, about old men, about the family we choose and the family we’re stuck with – and sins and regrets. It’s almost commendable that the film doesn’t want to settle for being just another mindless "Taken"-esque Liam Neeson shoot ‘em up. Unfortunately, more just results in less in "Run All Night," with the dour drama and B-movie action combining to make a movie that feels more like "Amble All Night" or perhaps "Dawdle Through Dusk."

"Saunter To Sunrise" stars Neeson as Jimmy Conlon, a former hit man to reformed mob kingpin and best friend Shawn Maguire (Ed Harris). Now, Conlon spends most of his cold days as a drunken mockery, hated by cops (like the one played by Vincent D’Onofrio) almost as much as his make-good family man son Mike (Joel Kinnaman, "Robocop"). Only Shawn watches out much for him, but he’s got his own issues – namely his own son Danny (Boyd Holbrook, reteaming with Neeson after "A Walk Among the Tombstones"), an entitled junkie hoping to take over for his dad someday but who keeps getting himself in trouble in the process.

Case in point: A deal gone wrong with some Albanian drug dealers (what is it with Liam Neeson movies and Albanians?) leads to a massive shootout, one that Mike accidentally witnesses while out on a limo driving job. Danny goes after Mike to cover his bloody tracks, but Jimmy manages to beat him to the trigger, killing his best friend’s son. Now hunted by a jilted Shawn and his cronies, a stoic assassin (Common) and cops both clean and corrupt, the emotionally distant father-son tandem must – you guessed it – run all night to protect Mike and kill those wanting to kill him – even Shawn if it comes to that.

Given some of the meatier material they’ve received in the past few years, Neeson and Harris do fine, craggy work as the two broken men, friends turned reluctant rivals. The only problem is that they come to the service of a movie that doesn’t seem to know what it wants to be.

Is it an action B-movie in the gritty ’70s/’80s vein? When they finally show up, the action scenes have some of that scrappy style and vibe with grounded car chases through busy streets and frill-free shootouts in abandoned train yards. There’s even a brutal brawl in a subway bathroom that vaguely recalls "The Warriors."

They may be decent enough to hold over generous action fans, but the key part of that last paragraph was "when they finally show up." No amount of whooshing Google Maps-style edits can hide the fact that screenwriter Brad Ingelsby (who also wrote the equally portentous B-movie "Out of the Furnace") takes his sweet, dull time in setting the plot up. Almost the whole first third is spent establishing these characters’ sad, dour relationships that you wonder if the titular all-night run is ever happening at all.

It’s aggressively un-fun – especially for a movie that, at one point early on, has Neeson doing his best "Bad Santa" impression – and when the story and action does fire up, it still never rises to much urgency or entertainment.

So how about a drama then? After all, "The Grey" was sold as "Liam Neeson punches wolves" and ended up not only being a stoic, grim drama, but possibly one of the actor’s best movies of recent note. "Run All Night," however, isn’t quite as capable, mostly because the tone keeps oddly fluctuating. The audience is introduced to sad, pathetic Jimmy – and then shortly after has him drunkenly hitting on moms in a Santa suit at a party where characters have dialogue like, "I hate Albanians" (seriously, Albania needs a better agent).

On a scene-by-scene basis, the movie seems unsure of what kind of picture it is, and the end result is neither. It has dramatic aspirations, but it’s stuck in an action movie. So we transition from a ruined Neeson spending 30 minutes lamenting his violent past only to picking up his gun without hesitation, Common’s out-of-place evil stone-faced hit man (a useless addition since we already have a better bad guy and character in Harris) and action scenes where guys hit each other with flaming sticks.

But at the same time, none of that is all that entertaining since those B-movie thrills are also stuck in a solemn reflection on men and violence that has Neeson’s character tallying up all the people he’s killed and a dark twist revealed via a growling Nick Nolte cameo.

The confusion would be passable if it was at least more competently made. Director Jaume Collet-Serra (marking his third collaboration with Neeson after the entertaining absurd "Unknown" and the just plain absurd "Non-Stop") understandably struggles with the tone, but that doesn’t excuse the shaky, sloppy camerawork or the plain galling editing from Dirk Westervelt (the best left forgotten revenge thriller "Faster") that turns a simple moment of throwing a glass into a confounding multi-cut catastrophe. There’s also a nice collection of NYC B-roll that transitions from night to day … to seemingly the first night again. Even the decent ’80s actioner vibe is undercut by Collet-Serra’s leanings toward slick, stylish cuts that are more clunky than cool.  

I want to like "Run All Night" more; it’s a movie that’s trying to be more than just another dumb "Taken 3.5" and attempting to emphasize character and drama first – something I should be cheering. In this case, though, it’s reaching beyond its capabilities, to the point of ruining what genre pleasures the audience might get.

Judging by the frenetic editing of his latest action movies and his own recent statements, it seems Neeson himself may be too. "I’m too old to run," says his character, a problem for a movie called "Run All Night." No wonder it ends up playing more like "Meander Until Morning."

Matt Mueller Culture Editor

As much as it is a gigantic cliché to say that one has always had a passion for film, Matt Mueller has always had a passion for film. Whether it was bringing in the latest movie reviews for his first grade show-and-tell or writing film reviews for the St. Norbert College Times as a high school student, Matt is way too obsessed with movies for his own good.

When he's not writing about the latest blockbuster or talking much too glowingly about "Piranha 3D," Matt can probably be found watching literally any sport (minus cricket) or working at - get this - a local movie theater. Or watching a movie. Yeah, he's probably watching a movie.