Imagine you’re spending the day at an amusement park. You’ve already been on a couple awesome rollercoasters. One had four loops in a row. Another had a 90-foot vertical drop. The third ride, however, creaks along at about five miles an hour. There are no twists, no turns, no loops, no shocks. It wasn’t a memorable ride, but hey, at least you’re not at work or in class.

“Edge of Darkness”

At Quality 16 and Showcase
Warner Bros.

The same is true of “Edge of Darkness,” Mel Gibson’s first starring vehicle since 2002’s “Signs.” In “Darkness,” Mel reprises his patented anguished dad role from “Ransom” and “The Patriot.” He kills some anonymous bad guys, and narrative inconsistencies are largely ignored. You’ll be perfectly content to watch how the events unfold; you just won’t care why they’re unfolding.

Mel is Boston detective Thomas Craven. After his daughter takes a fatal shotgun blast to the guts, Craven begins the investigation assuming the hit was intended for him. He soon realizes that his daughter was working for a company with shady business practices and sets out to avenge her death and bring down the evil dudes with a conviction that only a grieving father can possess.

It’s not entirely surprising that “Darkness” would color so completely within the lines, as it’s helmed by Martin Campbell. Campbell struck creative gold with 2006’s “Casino Royale,” but has otherwise delivered a career filled with standard action fare. He seems to value simplicity and clarity over all other artistic tenets of filmmaking: His camera moves in straight lines, his editing is conventional and the performances he gets from his actors clearly separate hero from villain without much engagement from the audience. These things do not unmake a film — they merely inhibit its reach.

Case in point: the opening of “Darkness.” The viewer sees grainy home video footage of Craven’s daughter as a toddler. There’s a timestamp in the corner of the screen. The daughter addresses the camera as “Daddy,” so we know Craven is the one filming her. But there’s no cut to current Mel watching it on his TV. There’s no off-screen dialogue about how it’s time to put the camera down. The scene simply switches to Craven at the train station waiting for his now-adult daughter (Bojana Novakovic, “Drag Me to Hell”). There’s no indication that this footage exists for any other reason than to flatly and lazily educate the audience of Craven’s love for his daughter.

This indolent footage is rendered further useless by the validity of Mel’s pained performance. Few leading men can deliver the blank face of loss like Mel, and his admirable delivery conflicts with one of the central problems of the film.

“Darkness” continually flips its emotional output like a new driver alternating between the gas and brakes. Craven breaks into an apartment and has a body-slam contest with the man inside, but immediately thereafter stands solemnly in his daughter’s room, contemplating the brevity of her life.

Compare such a sudden contrast with the strength of the scenes in which Craven hallucinates that he’s communicating with a younger version of his daughter — far more believable than the magical home movies.

The second crippling error is Jedburgh, the character played by Ray Winstone (“Beowulf”). Jedburgh is some sort of shady federal cleaner whose every action is above the law. He converses publicly with both Craven and the ever-growing laundry list of bad guys, from CEOs to senators to CIA operatives, without any fear for his security. It’s never clear who he works for, what his motivations are or what his purpose is besides the maintenance of the plot even when he, not Mel, concludes the volatile events of the film. It’s an enormous oversight and an aggravating deus ex machina, and the character is not even close to being effective.

“Edge of Darkness” could have been worlds better. The loss of a child is a bottomless well of drama upon which filmmakers can draw and find new perspectives. Though Mel demonstrates his own grasp of such drama, the film around him alters its course at inopportune moments, leaving the viewer ultimately apathetic to his behavior. And speaking of Mel’s behavior, if you’re worried about it, don’t be. The film is 100-percent kosher.

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