It’s the start of the 2015 movie season so you know what that means. It’s time for a Liam Neeson action flick. For several years we have gotten a Neeson action movie early in the year, mostly February. While they are usually forgotten by the end of the year, they do provide some decent escapist fun. Well, except for “Taken 2” which was an awful film, but it was also released in September. Now we get “Taken 3” and we get it in January. Will that early-year Neeson ‘magic’ give us yet another entertaining but forgettable thriller or does this film belong in the same crap bowl as “Taken 2”?
I can’t say I’ve been optimistic about “Taken 3”. Luc Beeson returns as co-writer and producer. Olivier Megaton returns to direct. In “Taken 2” these guys captured none of the first film’s edgy, butt-kicking entertainment. Instead they gave us a dopey and preposterous sequel filled with sloppy and undecipherable action scenes. With them back on board how could I expect anything different?
The story follows the same basic blueprint as the other two movies. We spend the first 20 minutes or so getting reacquainted with these characters. Bryan Mills (Neeson) is still a fun loving father who loves a good bagel and owns a ‘particular set of skills’. He still has a close relationship with his ex-wife Lenore (Famke Janssen) and with his daughter Kim (Maggie Grace). Lenore has been having marital problems with her husband Stuart (Dougray Scott) which has rekindled her affections for Bryan.
One day Lenore texts Brian and asks him to meet her at his apartment. When he arrives he finds her dead in his bed. The police immediately bust in and Bryan becomes the chief suspect. Thanks to a series of head-scratching decisions and amazing conveniences Bryan sets out to find who is responsible for his wife’s murder. Hot on his heels is LAPD Detective Franck Dotzler (Forest Whitaker) who wants to take him in. Clues, close calls, car chases, and fistfights follow as Bryan tries to get to the killer before the police get to him.
The good news is “Taken 3” is better than the last film but not by a wide margin. There are just some things you have to expect. Beeson is going to give you some excruciating lines and some laughably bad plot contrivances. I swear, the guy writes some of the most simplistic and obvious dialogue. You can also expect Megaton to hack his action scenes to pieces and then paste them together in a headache-inducing collage of fast-paced images. His ridiculous quick cuts make following the action an impossible chore. He does slow it down a tad in the second half and that helps things a little.
I always enjoy Liam Neeson but for the first time he actually looks his age. Maybe it was how the fight scenes were shot. Maybe he was tired or uninterested. Whatever it is Neeson looked slow and limited. On the other hand he has that gravelly-voiced charisma and he can often make the most absurd scenes entertaining. He is asked to do a lot of that in “Taken 3” and in the end he makes it a lot more watchable than the last film. But as long as Beeson and Megaton are attached, it will be a silly and shallow series that even Neeson himself can’t fully save.
It’s still a little hard to believe that the man who played Oscar Schindler has evolved into a bonafide action movie star. Such is the case with 60-year old Liam Neeson. Neeson’s 2008 action thriller “Taken” was a surprise hit that moved his career in a new direction. And while I enjoyed “Taken” and it was a huge success, it wasn’t a movie that I expected to have a sequel. Yet writer Luc Besson returns with a new story (well, kinda) and with Neeson, Famke Janssen, and Maggie Grace back onboard. Now when watching “Taken 2” you’ll undoubtedly question why it was made (other than the obvious cash in) and it will strike you as very similar to the first movie. But while critics have shelled it, overall I didn’t have the sharp negative reaction to the film that many have had. Still “Taken 2” is a movie that doesn’t do a lot to stand out and ultimately it’s a standard “watch it once and you’re done” kind of film.
This movie is pretty much a direct sequel to the first film. It’s been a year since Neeson’s Bryan Mills killed those evil Albanian mobsters who kidnapped his daughter. Now the head of the mob and father of one of those killed is out for revenge. He puts together a plan to kidnap Bryan, his ex-wife Lenore (Janssen), and daughter Kim (Grace) who are spending time together in Istanbul. After Lenore is taken and with Kim running for her life, it’s up Bryan to kill a bunch more evil Albanians in order to save his family. Luckily he still has that “particular set of skills”, right?
There’s nothing unwatchable about “Taken 2” and it does try to make itself an extension of the first film instead of a rehash. It begins by showing the lives of Bryan and his family since the events of “Taken”. These scenes are fine and I didn’t mind being reacquainted with these characters. But quite honestly they are irrelevant and do nothing to drive the narrative forward. Things do pick up when Bryan goes to Istanbul on some unspecified business. Both his family and the Albanian mob pay him surprise visits which sends the movie careening from action sequence to action sequence. That wouldn’t be a bad thing if “Taken 2” could shake the burdens of predictability and familiarity. It also embraces some pretty conventional action movie techniques that I couldn’t help but shake my head at. But there’s still a degree of fun to the movie and even though it’s not one that will stick with you, it always kept my attention.
But let me say a little bit more about the action. These are some of the most poorly edited action sequences I have ever seen. The fight scenes are made up of rapid-fire quick cuts that make it impossible to know what’s going on. The movie keeps the action toned down enough to get a PG-13 rating but in several instances it hurts the film. There’s almost no edge to the action and even some of the bigger payback scenes at the end are unsatisfying because of this. One more thing, “Taken 2’s” bad guys are some of the dopiest in movie history. Tell me if this sounds like a good idea: You capture your prime target and one of the most deadliest men in the world and you leave him tied up and unattended in a room while you go down the hall to eat and watch soccer on TV. Seriously?
No matter how much I wanted to love “Taken 2” I just can’t. It never had me checking my watch and at a compact 90 minutes it never overstays its welcome. But there are so many flaws with this movie. Sure I love a snarling Liam Neeson and I love watching him bust the heads of bad guys. Unfortunately this movie just gives us more of the same but at a much lower and lazier production level. Even Liam can’t fully overcome that.
I grew up watching those 1980’s and early 90’s tough guy action movies. During that time, the action genre was immensely popular. For years those movies made one-man-armies and cheesy one-liners commonplace. But that doesn’t mean they weren’t fun and I wouldn’t hesitate calling some of them personal favorites. “Lockout” takes a lot of its inspiration from those 80’s action flicks and it unashamedly tries to recreate the tone and feel of those films. Because of that, the movie could be an immediate turn-off for those who didn’t care for the genre or a disappointment for those who don’t get what the film is aiming for. I found it to be a fun piece of popcorn entertainment despite its few noticable shortcomings.
“Lockout” doesn’t pretend to be earth-shattering or ground-breaking by any means. It’s very straightforward in its presentation and even the trailer seemed patterned after those from the 80’s. Several elements of the story are fairly familiar but with a futuristic, sci-fi angle. Guy Pearce bulks up to play a government operative named Snow. He’s an irreverent, wise-cracking loose cannon who finds himself framed for a crime he didn’t commit (stop me if you’ve heard this before). Meanwhile Emilie Warnock (Maggie Grace), the U.S. President’s daughter, is visiting an orbital space prison known as MS ONE on a humanitarian fact-finding mission. But while there, the prisoners revolt and take charge of the space station. Snow is asked to go in and rescue the President’s daughter in exchange for his freedom. Of course he agrees but with his own ulterior motives.
The story moves at a pretty fluid pace and at 95 minutes it’s pretty compact and doesn’t drag things out. In many ways Snow is your prototypical tough-guy. He’s tough as nails, has a bad attitude, and fires off more one-liners than bullets. Clearly he’s written to take wise-cracking to the extreme but it’s a little overdone. In fact, it’s almost as if Snow is completely incapable of carrying on a normal conversation. One the flip side, this isn’t a movie centered around stimulating conversation and several of Snow’s quips are quite funny. But it also makes him an incredibly one-dimensional character.
The movie is chock full of CGI and special effects. Some of the effects are well done and they do a lot to create a believable sci-fi environment. But there are also several examples where they look more like a video game than a movie. Before the movie started, the trailer for Ridley Scott’s “Prometheus” was shown and the difference in the special effects between the two is staggering. But to be fair, “Prometheus” has about five times the budget and “Lockout” just tried to make due with what it had. The action scenes are pretty well done even though so much of it happens off-screen. This was clearly done in order to obtain a PG-13 rating. But in a way it subverts the tough and gritty look of the film and takes away an edge that would have made the movie better in my opinion.
I’m a big fan of Guy Pearce. When it comes to movie roles he has a pretty diverse resume, but I haven’t seen him play a character quite like this. It doesn’t take long to figure out his approach to Snow. Pearce is clearly having fun with the role and his performance is quite good. I never felt Pearce let’s Snow become just a caricature and in several instances he elevates the material. Maggie Grace does a decent job although she’s not quite on Pearce’s level. The movie is helped by some really good smaller supporting performances. It’s funny to say about this type of movie, but the acting really rises above the story in many places.
“Lockout” is getting hammered by critics and I find that to be no surprise. This is another example of some critics not measuring the film by what its trying to be. Now I’m not saying “Lockout” is incredible filmmaking or a new classic. It clearly has it’s issues that do drag it down a bit. The special effects aren’t the best and the action is sometimes pruned to the point of being ineffective. But I still found it to be an entertaining sci-fi B movie led by a really, really fun performance from Pearce. “Lockout” won’t win any awards but for the most part it accomplishes what it intends to.
The Weinstein Company has released what’s being called the first “teaser poster” for Quentin Tarantino’s upcoming western film “Django Unchained”. Other than a brief and vague synopsis, little is known about the film and we’ve yet to see the first trailer. As you can see below, the “teaser” poster doesn’t offer much more information but it does looks pretty cool. “Django Unchained” stars Jamie Foxx, Leonardo DiCaprio, Samuel L. Jackson, Christoph Waltz, and Kurt Russell and, of course, it’s directed by Quentin Tarantino. Look for it in theaters this December.
Director Christopher Nolan and Warner Brothers have released several new images from July’s almost guaranteed blockbuster “The Dark Knight Rises”. Nolan’s final installment in his brilliant Batman trilogy has a lot of promise but also a lot of questions. In one of the images we get to see Bane seemingly in control of a stock exchange and in another Selina Kyle in full Catwoman garb checking out an empty safe. “The Dark Knight” will be a tough act to follow but with Nolan leading the way, it’s bound to be good.
Tom Hardy as Bane in “The Dark Knight Rises“
Anne Hathaway as Selina Kyle (Catwoman) in “The Dark Knight Rises”
What are you thoughts on “Django Unchained” and “The Dark Knight Rises”? Both are attention getters in movie circles and both promise to have a lot of people talking about them.
NEW IN THEATERS (April 13th):
“THE CABIN IN THE WOODS” (R) – Horror
“LOCKOUT” (PG-13) – Sci-Fi Action
“3 STOOGES” (PG) – Comedy
“THE RAID: REDEMPTION” (R) – Foreign Action
“IN DARKNESS” – Limited Release (R) – Historical Drama