Mel Gibson in 'Edge of Darkness'

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If it's a Mel Gibson movie, chances are he's grieving over a dead somebody and looking to make another somebody pay.

It's a role that came to him early, in the 1979 cheapie "Mad Max," and it has served him well ever since in "Lethal Weapon" (dead daughter), "The Patriot" (dead sons) and "Braveheart" (dead wife). Gibson's trademark combination of grief and anger has made him one of our most indelible actors: You probably didn't notice that, after some well-publicized controversies, he hasn't starred in a movie since the 2002 chiller "Signs" (another dead wife).

Returning in "Edge of Darkness," a B-minus thriller with moments of A-plus violence, Gibson doesn't exactly reinvent his persona. He plays Thomas Craven, a gruff Boston cop whose 24-year-old daughter takes a fatal shotgun round to the chest. Maybe he was the target - or maybe not.

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"Edge of Darkness" is as workmanlike as its dogged hero. The plot, parboiled down from a 1985 BBC miniseries, hinges on the usual conspiracy figures, most of them played by excellent, if overly familiar, character actors: the arrogant munitions executive (Danny Huston, "X-Men Origins: Wolverine"), the amoral U.S. apparatchik (Denis O'Hare, "Duplicity"), the Cockney hit man (Ray Winstone, "The Departed"). The dead daughter (Bojana Novakovic, very pretty) returns in sentimental flashbacks.

Martin Campbell, who directed "Casino Royale," mostly punches the clock here but occasionally gets a brutal groove going. The climax is a doozy, with Huston providing the film's best bloody moment. Gibson, of course, snaps and snarls and blows out some brains with a joylessness that is thoroughly enjoyable. It's like he never left.

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