Movie a Day Blog can’t figure out what’s going on with Sean Penn. He makes an odd, disheveled presentation at the Oscars, and now he’s trying to be Liam Neeson.

That’s really the only explanation possible for the existence of THE GUNMAN (2015, Theatrical), which Penn produced (with Joel Silver, no less!) as well as stars in.

To make the point crystal clear, the director chosen to guide Penn on the Neeson Way, the Luc Besson protege Pierre Morrel, not only directed the initial TAKEN (2008) that revived Neeson’s leading man career, but also DISTRICT B13, an underrated action thriller that introduced the stunt style parkour into the cinematic vocabulary.

The problem is that Penn is not Neeson, no matter how buffed his body looks, and it is seriously ripped in GUNMAN. He can play world-weary, which is part of the formula, but he looks pained and uncomfortable when he’s shredding people with bullets and blowing things up along the way. Other action stars do it with relish; Penn looks like it’s required Hollywood community service.

He’s servicing a strange plot that starts out as a drama about non-governmental organizations and corporate assassination, and then quickly devolves into everyone in the world trying to kill Penn’s character, the actual trigger man and therefore the one to pay for it, although a bunch of his fellow conspirators end up gruesomely dead first.

The only real enjoyment in GUNMAN comes when Mark Rylance, the brilliant English stage actor, shows up as a peppy and cheery former colleague of Penn, in on the same crime, but somehow eluding the death-doers stalking Penn. Even his presence proves no surprise; the script proves predictable down the line and wastes the B story line completely, the inevitable doomed romance.

The Italian actress Jasmine Trinca offers no strong screen presence to come close to holding her own with Penn  or the man she leaves him for, a superficial role for the talented Javier Bardem. He’s kind of a wheedling drunk, a jealous husband and another betrayer of Penn, but we don’t care a fig for his character, and he too seems immune to the threat facing the hero.

No one seems to care that much  about what happens to Penn and his self-made troubles, and unfortunately, that includes us in the audience. A guilty conscience can only take an action hero so far, and that’s little motivation for Penn’s character other than a desire to stay alive. He can be an immensely compelling actor, but only when his heart is into it.

I don’t think we’ll be seeing THE GUNMAN 2. Liam Neeson can rest easy.




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