The Middletown Press (Middletown, CT)

Liam Neeson’s ‘Marlowe’ resurrects a vintage gumshoe

- Text and photos by wire services

The richly hard-boiled terrain of detective Philip Marlowe has always been, to quote Raymond Chandler, “a nice neighborho­od to have bad habits in.”

Chandler’s Los Angeles gumshoe has stretched across some of the most fertile decades of American cinema, from Howard Hawks’ seductivel­y cryptic “The Big Sleep” (1946) to Robert Altman’s “The Long Goodbye” (1973). Having been played by Humphrey Bogart, Dick Powell, Robert Mitchum and Elliot Gould, among others, he’s less a character than a legacy to be passed down, like a cherished dark fedora.

But it’s been a long time, almost half a century, since Marlowe was notably portrayed on the big screen. “Marlowe,” with Liam Neeson as the private eye, is a reclamatio­n project, a bid to recapture some old-school, tough-talking movie magic. And, intriguing­ly, “Marlowe” is not taken directly from Chandler. It’s instead an original (albeit deeply faithful) interpreta­tion of the character penned by William Monahan (screenwrit­er of “The Departed”), adapted from John Banville’s 2014 book, “The Black-Eyed Blonde: A Philip Marlowe Novel.”

The urge for imitation is an understand­ably strong one. Who wouldn’t want to write sentences like: “She gave me a smile I could feel in my hip pocket.” And “Marlowe” seemingly has all the requisite trappings. Venetian blinds. Femme fatales. The sinister underbelly of polite society. So why does — to paraphrase Chandler again — “Marlowe” mostly just kill time and die hard?

The film, which opens Friday in theaters, is a handsomely made period piece crafted with obvious affection for film noir by the veteran director Neil Jordan (”The Crying Game”), plus a top flight cast including Neeson, Diane Kruger, Jessica Lange, Danny Huston and Alan Cumming. Yet “Marlowe,” enveloped with a strong smell of mothballs, feels like an old pinstripe suit that’s been taken out of the closet for no apparent reason. Neeson’s Marlowe punches harder, but that’s about all that distinguis­hes the film, which has made surprising­ly little effort to reconsider Marlowe from a new perspectiv­e. Marlowe feels more like a mummy purposeles­sly raised from the dead.

 ?? Quim Vives/Associated Press ?? This image released by Open Road Films shows Liam Neeson in “Marlowe.”
Quim Vives/Associated Press This image released by Open Road Films shows Liam Neeson in “Marlowe.”

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