The name Steven C. Miller might not be a household one, but the director has found his niche as a go-to filmmaker for actors looking to couch their fall from the A-list with some straight to video action shenanigans. He’s made ten movies over the past eight years with the likes of Bruce Willis, Nicolas Cage, and John Cusack and titles like Extraction (2015), Marauders (2016), and Arsenal (2017), and now it’s Aaron Eckhart‘s turn to join Miller’s extended family with the propulsive but goofy Line of Duty.
Officer Frank Penny (Eckhart) is a uniformed cop who walks his city beat with a resigned attitude and a heavy heart. An on the job incident from his past has left him fairly disgraced in the department, so at this point he’s just watching the days pass without ambition or hope. That changes when he finds himself in the vicinity of a suspect on the run from a failed ransom pickup, and while he’s told to stand down Frank can’t resist the chase — and ten minutes later the perp is dead after being shot by Frank in an alley. It’s bad news as the man was the only link to the police chief’s (Giancarlo Esposito) kidnapped daughter who’s already on the clock in a tank slowly filling with water. Stripped of his badge and his gun, Frank disobeys orders (again) and sets out to find the missing girl before it’s too late.
Line of Duty plays out over a day, and while the action and plot points grow exceedingly silly and unbelievable the film maintains real momentum and energy throughout starting with that early foot chase. It runs a full ten minutes long and shows Eckhart fully committed to the role. Miller knows how to get real bang for his buck, too, and while some CG gibberish interrupts the fun at times the action and adrenaline make for a fun watch.
The film pairs Penny with a hungry young journalist named Ava (Courtney Brooks) who’s new to the unfiltered internet news game and extremely opinionated in regard to right, wrong, and the villainy of corrupt cops. She speaks for the people, or something, and as circumstance brings the two together the film’s tone takes something of a hit. Not that it was darkly serious before, but the two develop a banter that leans heavier towards comedy than the drama of death, violence, and abduction they’re wading through. The attempt at balancing comedy with the serious and heartfelt doesn’t quite work, but it also doesn’t really hurt? The film basically becomes an action/comedy delivering both well enough with a low budget and a light effect.
The humor doesn’t always succeed, but when it does, credit frequently goes to Eckhart. His character is a good guy, screwed over by one bad call, and while he’s cranky his attitude is more entertaining than obnoxious. He’s a product of a bygone age, and pairing him with the younger, tech-savvy woman leads to him acting like an entertaining curmudgeon. “This isn’t the time for selfers,” he says with the utmost seriousness when she suggests going on camera, and come on, it’s funny. That combined with how game he is about engaging in much of the action makes for a solid turn from the actor.
Jeremy Drysdale‘s script seems a bit muddied with its social targeting, though, and naive in its conclusions about humanity. The police are uniformly great and admirable, the journalists are either idealistic or assholes, and the population at large is far more pleasant and forgiving than any real-world mob has ever demonstrated. It’s no deal-breaker, but as with the tone and budgetary restraints it works to hold the film at “just entertaining enough.”
Line of Duty is a perfectly fine diversion that entertains for its run without asking too much of the audience. Odds are you won’t remember much of it after the credits roll and will most likely never suggest a re-watch, but sometimes a fun watch is enough. If nothing else, use it as motivation to seek out some of Miller’s other films including his two best flicks (Silent Night, 2012; Marauders, 2016).