COLD PURSUIT: Ever since he rebooted his career as an action hero for the AARP market, Liam Neeson’s (SCHINDLER’S LIST) movies have all been bonded together by a similar plot structure. A guy with “a special set of skills” has a family member/loved one abducted/endangered/murdered by a gang of well-armed and financed criminals. Getting righteously pissed, he proceeds to extract his own form of gory vengeance against all odds on the perpetrators who done him wrong. That’s pretty much the basic formula of Frank Baldwin’s screenplay where Neeson is a prominent snowplow operator in a Colorado tourist town who’s plunged into grief when his son (Micheal Richardson) turns up dead from a heroin overdose. Knowing that his offspring “was no druggie”, the father turns his self-destructive instinct into the kind of rage against his son’s killers that can only be possessed by an avenging senior citizen with a snowplow (I mean, you just know when you see a snowplow here that someone’s going to get ground up by it.). What follows is a revenge mission where the protagonist sets off a snowbound YOJIMBO (1961) type of turf war between rival drug gangs where the rising body count is cleverly kept track of by flashing the names of the deceased characters and their nicknames. It’s this sort of unexpected humor amidst the carnage that at times is laugh out loud funny while raising this movie out of the potboiler heap where crap usually resides. I won’t even describe it as a guilty pleasure since no guilt is needed to enjoy the violence that at times feels like a punch line that’s non-verbally delivered. Neeson brings his standard grim, taciturn persona to his role and effectively plays it straight throughout the work with a significant assist from Tom Bateman (MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS) as a sociopathic drug kingpin who peddles cocaine, kills with impugnity and becomes especially enraged when his son eats cereal with high fructose corn syrup. That’s the kind of quirky, off-center humor present as various lowlifes get decapitated, splattered and beaten to a sanguine pulp with aplomb and panache. In creating an Americanized remake of his IN ORDER OF DISAPPEARANCE (2016), which is stylishly paid homage to in the closing credits, director Hans Petter Moland loses nothing in his translation although one can’t help noticing that the grim events surrounded by tongue-in-cheek humor is reminiscent of FARGO (1996) where the cold and snow played a pervasive role in that film as it does here. But putting those comparisons aside, this work more than stands on its’ own as a violent set piece that’s a helluva lot of fun. CRITIC’S GRADE: B+

CLOSING CREDITS: Here are my annual fearless predictions on who I believe will win Academy Awards on Sunday, February 24th.

BEST ORIGINAL SONG: “Shallow” from A STAR IS BORN

BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE: RBG

BEST ANIMATED FEATURE: SPIDER-MAN: INTO THE SPIDER-VERSE

BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM: ROMA

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY: THE FAVOURITE

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY: BLACKkKLANSMAN

BEST DIRECTOR: Alfonso Cuaron, ROMA

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS: Regina King, IF BEALE STREET COULD TALK

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR: Mahershala Ali, GREEN BOOK

BEST ACTRESS: Glenn Close, THE WIFE

BEST ACTOR: Rami Malek, BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY

BEST PICTURE: ROMA