Marlowe review – worldweary Liam Neeson makes for low-energy private eye

Raymond Chandler’s famous detective Philip Marlowe doesn’t quite come back to life in this new movie from Neil Jordan, adapted from a novel by Booker prize winner John Banville, writing under his genre pen name Benjamin Black. There are some droll touches and the prewar Los Angeles production design looks good. But listening to the dialogue sometimes feels like wading through treacle. The wisecracks fizzle, and Liam Neeson, in the leading role, is not exactly on his most dynamic form. The way the character has been conceived seems to accentuate an exhausted worldweariness and, while I’m sure that Neeson could have given the part some of the wiry strength of a Humphrey Bogart or Elliot Gould, he somehow always looks as if he’d like nothing more than a sit-down with a cup of tea and a biscuit.

It is 1939 and Marlowe is approached by the time-honoured shady lady: Clare Cavendish (Diane Kruger) wants him to find an ex-lover who – a little like Graham Greene’s Harry Lime – may have faked his grisly death in an automobile accident, and may since have been glimpsed in Mexico. Marlowe must deal with a number of tricky characters, including Clare’s wealthy and overbearing mother Dorothy Quincannon (Jessica Lange), a former movie actress whose new husband (Mitchell Mullen) is a creepy Joe Kennedy figure with a fortune built through bootlegging; he now owns a movie studio and is ambassador to Great Britain.

Marlowe also encounters people who want him to go away, such as Floyd Hanson (Danny Huston), the dead-eyed manager of the ritzy private club outside which the disputed corpse was found, and smooth businessman Lou Hendricks (Alan Cumming) who, like Dorothy, tries to hire Marlowe himself. There’s a little bit of fun and interest along the way and Lange has some fun with her eccentric persona, but this feels under-energised.

• Marlowe is released on 17 March in UK cinemas and on Sky Cinema, and in Australian cinemas on 18 May