Erased is a snoozy, sputtering Euro chase flick—a sort of poor man’s Liam Neeson revenge movie, where every call is placed from a pay phone and every other scene seems to take place in a train station. It’s set in Belgium, and has the title cards—”Antwerp, Belgium,” “Brussels, Belgium”—to prove it. These flash onscreen periodically, as if the movie were resuming after a commercial break.
It’s inept, patronizing storytelling—but perhaps the filmmakers are just trying to be helpful. Maybe viewers won’t know that Antwerp is only an hour away from Brussels, and maybe they’ll also miss the line of dialogue in which the main character says he’s going to Antwerp, which is only an hour away from Brussels. Maybe viewers will sneak into the theater and want to know which European country with excellent tax incentives is being used as a backdrop for this particular generic thriller. Could it be Luxembourg? Or the Czech Republic? Don’t worry, there’s another title card coming.
Erased stars Aaron Eckhart as a single father who moves to Belgium to take a job at a security firm. He brings along his teenage daughter, played by Liana Liberato. They argue about grades and boys and generally do the things fathers and daughters do in bad movies.
One day, Eckhart shows up to work to find the office empty; the phones are disconnected, his email has been wiped, and the bank can’t find his paychecks. At the parent company’s headquarters, he’s told that not only do they have no record of him ever having been an employee, but the division he worked for doesn’t exist. Soon, it becomes obvious that Eckhart has been had; the job was an elaborate con perpetrated to take advantage of his expertise at cracking security systems. He hasn’t been testing products—he’s been troubleshooting a heist. It doesn’t take long for gun-toting assassins to make their entrance; whoever staged the con now wants all involved dead.
Watching a twisty plot unfold can be a pleasure in and of itself, regardless of style. Unfortunately, director Philipp Stölzl (North Face, Young Goethe In Love) and first-time screenwriter Arash Amel overplay their hand, unmasking Erased’s generic military-industrial conspiracy about halfway through the film. As if to make up for the lack of intrigue, the movie doubles down on the violence; it boasts what’s probably the year’s highest bystander body count.
It’s entirely possible that all of the film’s CIA-trained bad guys have terrible aim, but the more likely answer is that Stölzl just doesn’t know how to craft an action scene. His visual style is flat and uninvolving; aside from the actors’ faces, there’s rarely anything worth looking at on the screen. Stölzl’s only recourse, then, is to periodically cut to random people getting shot. This makes all of the violence seem inconsequential, though probably not in a way he intended. For instance, it’s hard to empathize with Liberato when she gets grazed by a bullet during a shootout scene in a hospital, because said scene amounts to more or less a massacre of the hospital’s patients and staff.
Erased aspires to be an action movie and a thriller—two genres in which style is everything—but ends up looking like a hyper-violent CBS drama. Its wannabe setpieces—the opening heist, an off-ramp car crash, a climactic briefcase exchange—are undermined by its sloppy pace and compulsive lack of personality. When it isn’t dumb, it’s dull.