What kind of movie is Edge of Darkness? I ask only so that someone can tell director Martin Campbell, since he never quite figured it out during filming. A big, boring mess, Edge of Darkness never engages, never intrigues and never feels like it knows where it’s going.

Mel Gibson returns to the screen after a long absence playing a Boston cop whose daughter is shotgunned in his own front doorway. Going rogue to investigate her death (of course he does. Why wouldn’t he?), Gibson discovers a conspiracy brewing around the governmentally contracted nuclear facility where his daughter used to work. Well, by discovers I mean ‘Has Ray Winstone show up and pretty much explain it to him.’ You can see how dramatic that must be.

Edge of Darkness is based on a UK miniseries and the story did not survive the transplant into feature film form. Winstone’s character, a fixer hired by the government to keep things quiet, shows up and just dumps info on Gibson, pointing our hero in the direction of plot elements that need to be covered immediately. I imagine that Winstone’s character had more to do in the miniseries, and that the story was more divided between the dad and the spook; in the movie version Winstone’s character is the face of a major POV problem. We spend the first half hour with Gibson, and we think we’ll figure out this mystery with him, but the film suddenly jumps into a POV that encompasses not just the feds but also Danny Huston’s grandiosely malevolent corporate boss. The film gives us the answers to questions that Mel Gibson is still seeking, utterly undercutting all dramatic tension.

Even still, I’m not sure there would be dramatic tension. Every dead witness, every evil double cross, every bad turn is telegraphed a mile away. This means Edge of Darkness fails as a thriller. But wait, maybe it’s supposed to be a paranoid conspiracy movie! Well, since every bad guy is clearly delineated and since their motivations and methods are clearly spelled out, there’s not much to be ‘paranoid’ about. There’s no shadowy conspiracy – it’s Danny Huston and a handful of thugs, with the feds standing by the sideline hoping things don’t get too out of control. Maybe if the single old fellas Winstone and Gibson spent more time together – at one point they sit on a bench and drink wine! – this could have also tried to be a romcom.

Gibson’s fine in the role; he’s just doing his standard angry thing, which has been away long enough to feel fresh. He does get to deliver the strangest line of dialogue I may have ever heard in a movie like this, threatening a baddie with throwing a ‘box of tarantulas’ into the ‘situation.’ I don’t even know what that means, but I love it. It’s Winstone who gets the shaft; while he’s great he just doesn’t fit in this movie, and he’s delivering lines that feel like they were pulled in not from a different draft but from a totally different script altogether. There’s a point where being too good for a movie doesn’t make you shine, it makes people just feel bad for you. Winstone’s at that point in Edge of Darkness.

While Edge of Darkness is opening in the Taken slot and is being sold in a similar way – angry dad kicking ass for his daughter – this film is nothing like that. There are some action scenes, but they’re few and far between, and they’re not usually very good. Gibson’s investigation doesn’t even have any heat; well into the third act he corners a crooked lawyer and talks tough and you’re thinking ‘Fucking finally, a moment in the script that feels like there’s on-screen conflict!’ This film could have been two hours of Gibson scanning through microfiche and it wouldn’t have been any more dull.

There’s an interesting idea buried in Edge of Darkness. Maybe it was explored better in the original miniseries. But that interesting idea is buried here under layers of boredom, padding, listless direction and drama-free plot points. It’s nice seeing Mel Gibson back on screen, but after twenty minutes of this movie you just want him – and the movie itself – off.

3 out of 10