I was told there would be more wolf-punching. If you crash Liam Neeson and six disposable buddies in the frozen Alaskan wilderness, there is the expectation—nay, the requirement—that he punch as many wolves as possible. Tape pocket knives and broken glass to your fists, improvise other weapons from the plane wreckage, just do what's necessary in the situation, OK? But despite Neeson's recent string of aggrieved-daddy action flicks (Taken, Unknown, etc.), this is not to be. Reuniting with his A-Team director Joe Carnahan, Neeson is instead a melancholy Irish Catholic given to fits of poetry and religious doubt. He gently shepherds a dying passenger into the beyond. He provides sage advice to the motley survivors—worried by their knowledge of both Alive and Grizzly Man—he would lead on a trek to safety. He writes to a mystery woman, glimpsed in gauzy flashbacks, who provides the film's only real jolt—when you realize the association with Natasha Richardson. Otherwise, as they systematically pick off the stragglers, too many CGI wolves go unpunched. (Though in their defense, none morph into Taylor Lautner, so it's hard to hate them too much.) Compared to these furry hunters, Neeson's pack is revealed to be frail and fearful. The Grey's dwindling survivors somberly contemplate the odds against them and, as the film takes a mystical turn, the absence of divine providence. There's too much Jack London, not enough Jaws.
Neeson's hunter is already depressed. Then his plane crashes.
Opens Fri., Jan. 27 at Metro and other theaters. Rated R. 117 minutes.