Aaron Eckhart is apparently one unlucky SOB. Not only does he fail to parlay his considerable indie cred (Thank You for Smoking, In the Company of Men) into some manner of lasting leading man status, he couldn’t even gain the same from playing a key role in Christopher Nolan’s heralded Dark Knight effort. Instead, he only seems capable of squandering such setups, as with the lame Love Happens or the equally dismissable Battle: Los Angeles. He just seems incapable of continuing career luck. Just look at The Core.
Now comes Erased (known as The Expatriate before The Weinstein Company brought it to U.S. soil), yet another sorry excuse for a proposed professional choice. Borrowing heavily from the whole Bourne/Taken type of international thriller, our lead is as inert and lifeless as the action backdrop provided by director Philipp Stölzl. Eckhart plays an ex-CIA operative turned security expert named Ben Logan. Living in Belgium and saddled with an angry teen daughter (is there any other kind?) named Amy (Liana Liberato), he goes into work one day to discover the offices empty, his fellow employees dead, and several slick assassins out to kill him.
Naturally, he takes his irritated adolescent offspring and heads out to uncover the conspiracy against him. It may be hard, however. Apparently, all records of his existence have been wiped away and there’s that nagging bit of nonsense about everyone wanting him dead. Eventually, he learns the truth about his previous employer (the Haliburton-like Halgate Group), his current situation, and the sale of arms to Africa. Huh? Exactly.
Now, Eckhart would seem perfectly fine for a film like this. He has a nice square jaw, and last time anyone checked, he was quite capable of acting while under duress, or slick set-piece fireworks. But he’s also a bit of a blank slate, a performer who acts like a sponge for an audience’s expectations. We want to see him bad-ass and beating down the bad guys. What we get instead are stern looks and limited inner intensity. What Eckhart thinks is smoldering angst is really nothing more than a case of cinematic indigestion. Even worse, Ms. Liberato is such a bratty pain that you wish her dad would simply break down and use her as a human shield.
Still, Stölzl tries. He keeps fueling his film with action, hoping to jump start something solid. He even resorts to putting Amy in mortal peril just so the audience can get their Liam Neeson-lite money’s worth. There are also the obvious bows to Paul Greengrass and his hyperkinetic, first person POV shakycam approach to chaos. Instead of presenting some straightforward buttkicking, Erased goes with a ludicrous level of motion picture prestidigitation. We can’t complain about what we can’t see clearly, right?
As convolutions pile onto contrivances and the whole narrative collapses under the weight of its own obviousness, Erased becomes, at best, a direct to DVD diversion. It argues for its own pointlessness by refusing to do anything new or novel with an already established and overdone genre. Sure, you could do worse with your time, but when confronted with the truth about such a title, why would you even bother? Aaron Eckhart apparently cashed in his action hero chips when he turned Harvey Dent into Batman’s worse villainous nightmare. Erased may be earnest, but at its core, it’s empty.