A movie review of “The Gunman”: Director Pierre Morel swaps out Liam Neeson for a younger, buffer Sean Penn but leaves the “Taken” formula intact: less blah blah, more bang bang. Rating: 2.5 stars out of 4.

Share story

Of the two Liam Neeson movies released this month, the better one is the one without Liam Neeson in it.

Last week’s “Run All Night” gave us the real McCoy, the Neeson who’s worn out his welcome playing aging action heroes. This week’s “The Gunman” gives us Sean Penn-as-Neeson: not quite as old, not so obviously weary of the whole action shtick, and a whole lot more buff. Sinewy and heavily muscled, playing many scenes sans shirt, Penn is one impressive physical specimen, perfectly suited for the kick-butt-and-take-names exertions that “The Gunman” calls on him to perform.

The key element that makes “The Gunman” a significantly more satisfactory Neesonesque outing than Neeson’s recent efforts is its director: Pierre Morel. He’s the man who launched the big guy on his current action arc with “Taken.” And he’s taken the “Taken” formula and applied it effectively to “The Gunman.” Simply stated, that formula is: less blah blah, more bang bang.

Movie Review ★★½  

‘The Gunman,’ with Sean Penn, Jasmine Trinca, Javier Bardem, Ray Winstone. Directed by Pierre Morel, from a screenplay by Don MacPherson, Pete Travis and Penn. 115 minutes. Rated R for strong violence, language and some sexuality. Several theaters.

“Run All Night” gets bogged down with a lot of gassy exposition between Neeson and Ed Harris. There’s some expository blather to set “Gunman” in motion, but Morel quickly gets down to the meat of the matter with lots of scenes of lots of gunmen trying to put lots of bullets in the Penn character’s brawny hide.

Jim Terrier (Penn) is a retired assassin-turned-humanitarian — how’s that for a concept? — marked for death by his old outfit as a way of wrapping up loose ends left over from a particularly nasty long-ago assignment.

These killers could use a refresher course in tradecraft. In one scene, they repeatedly phone Javier Bardem’s character, who is trying to set Jim up for the hit, to let him know they’re coming. Jim is in the room when the calls come in. Stupid!

There’s a woman to be protected (Jasmine Trinca). There is a debilitating brain condition that inconveniences our hero with fainting spells and a bad case of the staggers but miraculously clears up whenever bad guys need to be shot. There is a chase through a Spanish bullfighting stadium. There will be bulls. There will be horns. There will be blood.

So yes, there are plot holes aplenty, but the action is tautly staged by Morel and that makes “The Gunman” a satisfactory time-passer. Maybe Mr. Neeson should give his old colleague a call.