Oh sure, many of the devilishly absurdist doings in the brutally funny “Cold Pursuit” take place in and around the snow-covered, wintry terrain of a Colorado ski resort town — but compared to what’s been happening in Chicago and across much of the Midwest lately, these characters look almost comfortable in the unforgiving outdoors.
I mean, we can see their faces, and they can stand outside for more than five minutes without getting frostbite.
Granted, they might get their heads blown off, but hey, that’s the gig when you’re a henchman, a hitman, a drug lord or a father seeking vengeance in this bat-bleep crazy story.
On the surface, “Cold Pursuit” might look like another one of those Liam Neeson thrillers a la the “Taken” franchise and “Unknown” and “The Commuter” and “Non-Stop,” in which our man plays a happily married regular fella with a seemingly ordinary and perfectly normal life — until that One Life-Changing Thing Happens, and he must morph into a fiercely determined killing machine who will let nothing stop him in his quest for justice.
Ah, but after the introduction of the first of many corpses in director Hans Peter Moland’s English-language remake of his 2014 Norwegian film “In Order of Disappearance,” it becomes evident this is going to be an action comedy, with the emphasis on the comedy.
And the comedy works beautifully because nobody in this movie realizes they’re in a comedy, and rarely does anyone try to be funny. They’re deadly serious about their deadly business — and when you’re constantly killing or trying to not get killed, there’s not much time to take a step back and say, “Hey, that was kind of hilarious.”
Neeson — ably stepping in for Stellan Skarsgard in the starring role — plays one Nels Coxman (that’s right), who operates a vitally important snowplow business in the gorgeous ski town of Kehoe, Colorado, and in fact has just been honored as the town’s “Citizen of the Year,” much to the pride of his loving wife Grace (Laura Dern).
But on the very night Nels and Grace are celebrating his honor, their son Kyle (Micheal Richardson, Neeson’s real-life son with the late Natasha Richardson), who works at the local airport, is abducted and murdered by some very, very bad people. After killing Kyle, the thugs put sunglasses on him and prop him up and leave him slumped over on a bench in Denver, which reminded me of that movie “Things to Do in Denver When You’re Dead,” but this movie is a much better take on the Hipster Violent Black Comedy, so let’s get back to “Cold Pursuit.”
The coroner says Kyle died of a heroin overdose. Nels isn’t buying it, and in rapid fashion he begins to track down, pummel and snuff out various lowlifes in his quest to find the person(s) responsible for his son’s death.
Although “Cold Pursuit” adheres closely to the original, with many a scene virtually mirroring its predecessor, director Moland amps up the comedic touches even as the bodies pile up, making sure we know it’s all right to laugh at this madness.
Tom Bateman brings a Loki-esque vibe to his portrayal of the sociopath drug lord known as Viking, who lives in a sleek, modern, glass-walled home worthy of an Architectural Digest spread (although the dozen or so armed bodyguards stationed about would probably have to get out of frame). Viking’s a vegan, and he takes a fanatical interest in the dietary habits of his young son Ryan (Nicholas Holmes), berating his henchmen for sneaking treats into the kid’s school lunch. Julia Jones is Viking’s ex-wife Aya, who shows up from time to time to eviscerate Viking and remind him he’s an idiot.
In Nels’ single-minded quest to avenge his son’s murder, he unwittingly sets off a bloody turf war between Viking and the chief of the local Native American reservation, the antiquities (and cocaine, mostly cocaine) dealer White Bull (Tom Jackson).
Meanwhile, the energetic and enthusiastic new Kehoe Police officer Kim Dash (Emmy Rossum) is convinced there’s a huge case involving multiple murders with roots right there in their sleepy little ski resort, much to the amusement of her laid-back, old-timey partner “Gip” Gipsky (John Doman). Rossum and Doman are so good and so funny together, you could cobble their scenes together and make the case for a TV pilot.
It’s also great to see the veteran character actor William Forsythe as Nels’ estranged brother Brock “Wingman” Coxman, a retired mobster enjoying the spoils of his misdeeds with his Thai wife Ahn (Elizabeth Thai), who was supposed to be the target of his violence back in the day but won his heart at first sight. (Unfortunately, the character of the wife is even more of a stereotype than she was in the original.)
As characters with nicknames such as Sly and Mustang and Smoke and War Dog and Shiv and Drayno enter and often quickly exit the picture, “Cold Pursuit” moves forward with the assured and deliberate force of Nels’ massive snowplow. And with Neeson/Nels at the wheel, “Cold Pursuit” is one fantastically hot mess of a movie.