In the Line of Duty (2019) Review

When Officer Frank Penny (Aaron Eckhart) gets involved in the pursuit of a child abductor, he doesn’t count on having to shoot the guy dead. What he also doesn’t count on is that the child who’s been kidnapped is the daughter of Police Chief Volk (Giancarlo Esposito) and that the only lead to her whereabouts has now been snuffed out.

Can Frank’s day get any worse? What do you think? Pretty soon a video of Volk’s daughter surfaces and it shows that she’s trapped in a cabinet that’s slowly filling with water. With 64 minutes to locate the girl and save the day, Penny goes rogue, initially unaware that he’s being tracked by news vlogger Ava Brooks (Courtney Eaton) and definitely unaware that the kidnapper’s equally unhinged brother is out for revenge.

Starting out with a tense stake-out involving Esposito’s monumentally angry cop – “TAKE! HIM! DOWN!” he says at one point, in such a display of OTT intensity I thought his head was going to explode – then switching to a chaotic chase through city streets before settling down into mismatched buddy movie, this film doesn’t ever seem to know which tone it’s comfortable with.

The set-up is gritty and the plight of Volk’s daughter is scary enough but once the live vlog comes into play matters switch to generational culture clash banter between Eckhart’s troubled beat cop and Eaton’s net-savvy newshound. If the intention is to make the viewer feel as annoyed as Officer Penny at folk who live stream for a living, then it works.

Ava is introduced in a scene with website sidekick Clover (Jessica Lu) which seems to consist of vaguely tech-based dialogue and, ahem, “youth” slang that may very well have never featured in any conversation between any two people ever. It would be hilarious if it wasn’t like someone dragging their fingernails down a board.

Still, it’s not long before Ava’s thrown into the race against time with Frank and in time-honoured fashion the two of them will have to work together in order to rescue the abducted girl, starting off in Ava’s electric Fiat 500 – cue jokes about the size of the car and so on. Mind you, I’m not sure how Ava’s managed to keep the car running because it clearly has an exhaust. Has she never tried to charge it up? Not such a great piece of investigative journalism on that score, Ava.

Considering the clock’s ticking, there seems to be time for plenty of hopefully pithy to and fro between our two protagonists as they search for those who might hold the key to the mystery. And this is where things go from a tad daft to full-on ridiculous as Eckhart gets into a needlessly destructive scrap to obtain information, Meanwhile, the kidnapper’s brother (played by Ben McKenzie) tools up and starts shooting his way through the city’s cops, none of whom can lay a bullet on the guy.

And, just to add something further into the mix just to make sure another thriller trope box is checked, a local news channel headed up by Dina Meyer is following the proceedings and hoping to get their own exclusive. Now, when I saw Dina Meyer’s name in the opening credits, my hopes were raised substantially. I think she’s great in pretty much everything. And, with the scraps of the story she gets here, Dina gives as much as she can. However, she’s relegated to wandering around the set of a news programme and giving advice to the newsreaders and the people at the control desk. You’ve got Dina Meyer in your movie and you squander her in this role? Really?

Cast-wise, you can’t fault the talent involved here. Eckhart is always watchable and he keeps things on the rails here although he deserves far better. McKenzie’s good as the bad guy, reining it in rather than going for full-on, pop-eyed crazy. Esposito’s performance just about fits but he’s so super incensed all the time that there’s not much room for more subtle hints at Volk’s character. His daughter’s been kidnapped and man, he’s pissed off! Not much beyond that.

Eaton is fine despite having some dreadful lines to deliver and by the end I’d warmed to her character, which is one of the only things this movie got right for me. The pairing of she and Eckhart is absolute nonsense, brought upon by the flimsiest of plot contrivances, and yet they’re quite fun to watch, even as the plot developments – and various locations – collapse around them.

The action is competently staged and the fights have a pleasingly scuffly, grungy edge to them, aided by gliding camerawork which also boosts the kinetic run and gun sequences. These moments give some much-needed pep to the proceedings, but they don’t overcome the feeling that you’ve seen all of this before, and better besides.

Is Frank Perry trying to overcome a dark incident in his past? Yes. Is there tension between Penny and Volk? Yes. Are Ava and Perry going to get off on the wrong foot? Yes. Does the kidnapper have a specific beef with specific people in a specific police department? Yes. Did I spend time playing thriller trope bingo? Yes.

This is not to say that familiar is bad. Once I knew the direction this was heading, I wasn’t expecting it to push the envelope but I’m sorry to say that I wasn’t as entertained as I hoped I would be given the undoubted quality of its cast. Not nearly enough is made of the ticking clock – in fact, at one point it almost seemed to be forgotten – and the tone of the piece is all over the place. It misses the target more often than Officer Penny’s cop colleagues and if you are in a situation where your have 64 minutes to live, you’ve got better things to do with your time than watch two-thirds of this.

Movie Rating: ★★☆☆☆ 

Trailer:

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Darren Gaskell

Darren is a writing machine, producing content for a range of channels. You can catch more of his content at The Strange Colour Of Deej's Reviews and The Horrocist. You can also follow him on Twitter.

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