Honest Thief is a lazy, cheap, and deeply stupid entry in the Liam Neeson crime cinema oeuvre.
With Honest Thief we have yet another entry in the thriving low-energy, low-effort Liam Neeson concern. In this instance, we meet Tom Carter, demolitions expert and retired Marine, who since his discharge has taken up robbing banks. So skilled is he at his newfound craft that he’s stolen over $9 million and been cheekily dubbed — much to his chagrin — the In-and-Out Bandit. One fine afternoon, while looking for a place to house his ill-gotten loot, he’s instantly charmed by Annie, the nice desk clerk at a storage facility, and of course the two fall instantly for each other. There’s just one problem — plagued by a sudden, love-induced attack of conscience, Tom decides he needs to come clean with Annie about his past, return the stolen money, and cut a deal with the Feds for a light sentence so he can maintain his relationship while in the slammer. Enter two sets of dueling FBI guys: by-the-book partners, played by Jeffrey Donovan and Robert Patrick, and the not-so-nice partners, played by Anthony Ramos and Jai Courtney. The former are nonplussed by Tom’s confession and promise of restitution, while the latter see a golden opportunity to steal all his cash.
This requires literally everyone in the movie to suddenly become monumentally stupid. Tom gives up the location of and access to his stash to two obvious bad guys, who even manage to fool Annie into thinking they’re old Marine buddies in a scene so ridiculous you can’t actually believe it’s not being played for a twist, and the bad guys themselves seem to be oblivious to the idea that they might be caught on camera, you know, casually tossing contraband marked bills into the trunk of their service vehicle. By the time they’ve somehow managed to accidentally frame Tom for out-and-out murder, you’ll be wondering both A) what their actual plan is and B) why Tom doesn’t take any of a litany of opportunities to turn himself in and take the two corrupt Fibbies with him.
Neeson doesn’t have to do much to lend this character a little gravity and thoughtfulness, playing his umpteenth righteous criminal. In a few scenes, it’s Jeffrey Donovan who takes over, utilizing some goofy idiosyncrasies like hauling around a cute puppy. But in addition to being merely stupid, Honest Thief is both ugly and cheap, shot as it is in cold wintery greys and blues, with minimal action sequences that squarely belong in the televisual wheelhouse (no surprise given that director Mark Williams is most prominently a writer/producer on Netflix’s Ozark), and even those betray the very obviously thinly-stretched budget. It’s all simply more proof that the Neeson oeuvre is a once-promising cottage industry that offers diminishing returns even while it endures. Neeson will be sleepwalking through this character until he retires.