It’s easy to see why Liam Neeson was drawn to Retribution. He gets to sit in a car for 90 minutes. This is not to suggest he’s in any way lazy. Quite the opposite. After starring in a half dozen or so knockoffs of his hit Taken, he was probably tired of playing men who employ their “very particular set of skills” against bad guys. Here, he’s a victim and therefore gets to show a worried, fearful side as opposed to his usual tough-guy side. Neeson is dependably good, although the movie itself is generic and silly.

The actor plays bank executive Matt Turner. One morning, he has a quick chat with colleague Anders Muller (Matthew Modine). Then he kisses wife Heather (Embeth Davitz) goodbye. She’s frustrated by his workaholic ways. After a brief tiff with her, he drives daughter Emily (Lily Aspell) and teenage son Zach (Jack Champion) to school. On the way, a cell phone hidden in the car’s console rings. Matt picks up it, only to have a distorted voice inform him that there’s a bomb under his seat. If he gets out of that seat, the vehicle will explode, killing him and both children.

From there, Matt is given a series of locations he must drive to, where he has an interaction though the driver’s side window or via phone. Each new command requires him to think on his feet because making a wrong move will lead to the demise of his children. He begs to be permitted to let them out of the car, but the voice refuses. The questions for Matt are who’s behind the call and what do they want?

Actually, the answer to the first part is easy. Retribution makes identifying the villain a piece of cake. There are only so many people in the story, and the movie is a prime example of that old cliché about seemingly unnecessary characters having hidden functions. The answer to the second part is just dumb. We meet Matt minutes before his predicament begins, so we’re denied the vital background information that might have made the eventual revelation something to care about.

Neeson gives a good performance, believably conveying the concern Matt has for Emily and Zach. That gives Retribution a little emotional juice that the central mystery can’t provide. There’s also a basic level of suspense from the idea of sitting on a bomb. Retribution is mostly hollow, though. The plot is too threadbare to fully captivate us, and with a predictable villain, we’re stuck waiting for the movie to reveal a twist that’s obvious within the first ten minutes.

out of four

Retribution is rated R for some language and violence. The running time is 1 hour and 31 minutes.