Silence

January 13, 2017 by  
Filed under Cody, Reviews

Starring: Andrew Garfield, Adam Driver, Liam Neeson
Directed by
: Martin Scorsese (“Goodfellas”)
Written by: Jay Cocks (“Gangs of New York”) and Martin Scorsese (“Goodfellas”)

As a film almost 30 years in the making, from one of the most prolific, respected and decorated filmmakers of his time, it’s almost impossible for Martin Scorsese’s “Silence” to not have impossibly high expectations. Sprawling, beautifully bleak and yet quietly presented, the first trailers indicated that this wasn’t your average Scorsese. As we move into the final wave of awards season films, all eyes are on Scorsese to see what exactly he has been sitting on for decades.

After the disappearance of Father Ferreira (Liam Neeson), a pair of Jesuit priests, Father Rodrigues (Andrew Garfield) and Father Gariupe (Adam Driver), head to the dangerous land of Japan to track him down and to spread the word of Catholicism. As the two priests enter Japan, they see that being a Christian in Japan is a death sentence and they fight to keep the faith alive while trying find their mentor and keeping and their whereabouts a secret.

As an actor on the cusp for a while, “Silence” sees a fully realized Garfield. It’s a physical performance with a bit of weight loss, but also a sorrowful, charismatic, heartfelt and at times, humorous performance. It’s his film to carry with Neeson and Driver taking a bit of a backseat and he handles it well. Much of the rest of the cast is Japanese and very solid across the board. A lot is being made of the performance of Issey Ogata who plays the Inquisitor, and it’s valid. It’s almost strange as the performance seems hammy and cartooney yet completely works due to its commitment and darkly funny personality.

With a film this steeped in the story of priests and Catholicism, it is almost impossible to not say that what the audience takes from this film will largely depend on their own personal beliefs. At a minimum, however, the themes that can be extrapolated come down to “how far would one go to defend what they believe in?” As we watch our protagonists given time and time again to pull themselves, and those who follow them out of a situation at the expensive of selling out their believes, we see their struggle and their faiths tested. Scorsese deserves credit for not delving too far into forcing his beliefs on his audience, but the undertones are unmistakable. Is it meditative? Of course. Is it extremely religious in its themes? Absolutely.

“Silence” feels almost aggressively long, which isn’t helped by its slow pace. While much of the movie is compelling and ripe with strong performances, there are several false endings and a few check your watch moments. As a comprehensive piece, “Silence” probably falls around the middle or mid-to-lower range in Scorsese’s filmography. That isn’t to say it is a bad film on any level. It’s harrowing and challenging. It’s well performed and well written. There’s fantastic sound design and beautiful cinematography. But in the end, it remains a tough nut to crack and a little difficult to connect with on a level beyond its religiosity.

Run All Night

March 13, 2015 by  
Filed under Cody, Reviews, Uncategorized

Starring: Liam Neeson, Ed Harris, Joel Kinnaman
Directed by: Jaume Collet-Serra (“Non-Stop”)
Written by: Brad Inglesby (“Out of The Furnace”)

Stop me if you’ve heard this before: in order to escape a dangerous situation, a deeply flawed, but stoic and stern Liam Neeson needs to use his kickassery skills that were honed in some vague way to pile bodies and save the day. It’s a formula that has served Neeson well, as he has sustained a newfound action film career as he rolls into his 60s. Still, one can’t help but think Neeson is making the same movie over and over again, an issue which continues in “Run All Night.”

After witnessing a murder, Mike (Joel Kinnaman) finds himself in danger from the ruthless son of a mobster. When Mike’s estranged father Jimmy (Liam Neeson) shows up to try and protect his son, he is left with the choice to kill the man after him. To complicate things further, the man he killed is the son of his longtime best friend Shawn (Ed Harris). With a vow to return the favor, Jimmy and Mike must band together to survive one long night.

There usually isn’t a lot of variance or nuance to Neeson in this particular type of role, and “Run All Night” provides no exception. It’s a typecast that, at this point, he is comfortable in and, to his credit, also pretty adept at. Still, it is no different than any other performance in any other action film he has starred in. As his son, Kinnaman is a little bit of a blank slate, never showing enough emotion to register as a worthwhile character. Of the entire cast, it is the always fantastic Harris who stands out as the most well rounded of the bunch.

The “eye for an eye” driving story behind “Run All Night” is familiar, but is actually heightened a bit by the prior relationship between Harris and Neeson’s character. Unfortunately, those complexities are never fully explored and it feels like an entirely missed opportunity. There is also the case of the father-son relationship between Neeson and Kinnaman, which is intentionally icy cold from the get-go yet never warms up, even when it is meant to.

The requisite violence, narrow escaping in close calls and angry phone threatening that happens in every single one of these Neeson movies is, of course, present and at the forefront of “Run All Night.” It is generic, by the numbers and a clear signal that the Neeson shoot-em-ups are growing tired. Neeson, unexpectedly, has proven himself to be an action star capable of commanding the screen. It’s a shame that filmmakers can’t provide him with more complex roles and juicier storytelling.

A Walk Among the Tombstones

September 19, 2014 by  
Filed under Cody, Reviews

Starring: Liam Neeson, Dan Stevens, David Harbour
Directed by: Scott Frank (“The Lookout”)
Written by: Scott Frank (“Minority Report”)

Anyone else getting déjà vu? If you’ve seen the previews, trailers, or commercials for “A Walk Among the Tombstones,” it certainly appears as if Liam Neeson has returned to the well that has given him a rebirth as an action star. Even though his films might all appear similar, “Tombstones” isn’t quite “Taken 3” (or because of repetitive marketing, “Liam Neeson Aggressively Threatens Someone Over the Phone 3”) though that doesn’t mean it doesn’t feel familiar.

After quitting the NYPD years prior, Matt Scudder (Neeson) works as an unlicensed private investigator in New York. Although reluctant, Matt agrees to take a case from drug trafficker Kenny Kristo (Dan Stevens) whose wife was kidnapped and murdered after he paid a ransom. As Matt begins to dig deeper to find her killers, he sees the operation might be more complex than it seems.

As a hard-nosed former NYPD officer, Neeson sports a pretty bad New York accent that seems to fade in and out throughout the movie. Distracting dialect aside, Neeson doesn’t stray too far from the type of character audiences have seen him in since “Taken.” It’s a typecast that he’s certainly good at, but at this point the roles are beginning to blend together. Though it is of no fault to the cast, “Tombstones” suffers from completely unmemorable characters. Brian “Astro” Bradley gives a fine performance as TJ, a homeless kid who befriends Matt, but the character feels oddly out of place in the grand scheme of the film.

With an uneventful first two acts, “Tombstones” completely stumbles out of the gate. The first hour is dull and generic. Neeson’s character is searching for clues to put together pieces of a mystery, yet nothing of consequence or interest happen.s There are also a few puzzling decisions from screenwriter and director Scott Frank. For whatever reason, Frank felt the need to obscure the faces of the perpetrators and antagonists for the first portion of the film. It is an unnecessary mystery and decision with zero payoff other than literally seeing what the actors look like.

There is also the decision to take scenes during the climax of the film and relate it to a theme involving the 12-step program. It is a connection that is ill fitting and flimsy at best and actually annoyingly interrupts some of the most tense moments of the film. Where “Tombstones” is able to salvage itself is in its final act where the heat finally turns up and the story begins to take interesting turns. When Matt takes over another kidnapping situation, the film gains momentum as he inches closer and closer to a showdown with the bad guys. It is here that Neeson proves his worth and becomes fun to watch.

“Tombstones” is both visually and thematically a pretty dark affair. Unfortunately, it works in both directions and, at times, enhances certain scenes while leaving viewers cold and distant in others. It’s a shame Frank couldn’t have gotten to the point through a quicker and a more interesting route. “A Walk Among the Tombstones” is a slow burn that takes far too long to ignite.

Third Person

July 11, 2014 by  
Filed under Cody, Reviews

Starring: Liam Neeson, Mila Kunis, Adrien Brody
Directed by: Paul Haggis (“Crash”)
Written by: Paul Haggis (“Crash”)

Writer and director Paul Haggis is no stranger to the narrative device of balancing multiple storylines and character threads and attempting to bring them together physically or thematically. It did, after all, win him a Best Picture Oscar with “Crash,” an award that remains possibly the biggest Oscar stunner of the modern era. With “Third Person,” Haggis, who has only directed two films since 2004, returns to juggling parallel narratives only to clumsily drop them all at once.

“Third Person” tells the tale of three relationships in different stages and circumstances. In Paris, a writer (Liam Neeson) has a complicated relationship with a mistress (Olivia Wilde); in Italy, a businessman (Adrien Brody) has a run-in with a woman (Moran Atias) who is trying to get her daughter back; and in New York, a woman (Mila Kunis) is trying to regain custody of her child from her husband (James Franco) after a serious incident.

Though the screenplay constantly weighs them down, some of the actors of the impressive ensemble are able to turn in good performances in spots. The most consistent of the bunch is Neeson, who finally gets a role where he isn’t kicking ass on air, land or sea. It isn’t exactly nuanced, but it’s one of the least annoying characters in the film. Brody for his part is also fine, particularly where he gets to rattle off a couple of one-liners in the film’s opening. Wilde and Kunis, for their parts, get to show off some chops, though their characters are written tremendously weak. They both get to tap into emotional breakdowns and while their reasons might be absurd (especially in the case of Wilde) they are able to show dramatic range.

The aforementioned characters, however, are just a fraction of the giant roster of people who take up screen time. It becomes a serious issue as Haggis so overstuffs the film that there are often gaps where the audience doesn’t see a certain character for 15-20 minutes – not that the audience would miss any of them. Frankly, the design of the characters and their relationships with one another seems to elicit emotions ranging from indifference to strong indifference.

As the film trudges on, the screenplay and story wither into dust as plot points grow in banality and Haggis runs through the cliché handbook to carry the film forward. The big “twist” and conceit of the film is painfully obvious early on and, for whatever reason, Haggis feels the need to take over two hours to get there. When it finally happens and Haggis pulls the rug from under his audience, it is almost insulting in its execution. If there was anything character or story-wise worth becoming invested in, the last 15 minutes of “Third Person,” including a completely nonsensical, lazy ending, would have been an offense worthy of heaving objects at the screen.

“Third Person” doesn’t really turn into a disaster until its final act. The rest is bad, but generally watchable and mostly inoffensive. In what is becoming a troublesome trend, screenwriters and directors are squandering A-list ensemble casts at an alarming rate. For Haggis, “Third Person” takes a talented cast but a tired idea and runs it straight into the ground. If there is any lesson to be learned from “Third Person,” it is that sometimes less is more.

Non-Stop

February 28, 2014 by  
Filed under Cody, Reviews

Starring: Liam Neeson, Julianne Moore, Michelle Dockery
Directed by: Jaume Collet-Serra (“Unknown”)
Written by: John W. Richardson (debut), Chris Roach (debut), & Ryan Engle (debut)

In his mid to late 50’s, something strange happened with Liam Neeson’s career: he became an action star. Kick-started by his “special set of skills” in “Taken” in 2008, Neeson began taking on roles usually reserved for guys like Bruce Willis and Jason Statham. At age 61, the roles continue to pile in, this time with our hero trying to save an airplane full of people from an anonymous texting killer in “Non-Stop.”

During an international flight from New York to London, alcoholic U.S. Federal Air Marshal Bill Marks (Neeson) receives a text message from someone on the airplane stating a passenger will be killed every 20 minutes until $150 million is deposited into a bank account. Racing against the clock and not knowing who he can trust, Marks must find a way to smoke out the aggressive texter.

Using technology to enhance the story and an interesting wrinkle to the premise as bodies start dropping, “Non-Stop” starts off as strong entertainment. Neeson delivers what one might expect given his recent track record. He uses his now trademark and gravely suspect American accent to bark orders and angrily explain to another agent on the phone what is happening 30,000 feet in the air. It’s a far cry from the type of performance that netted him an Oscar nomination in “Schindler’s List,” but he plays it straight which is appropriate for this type of film.

There’s a nice level of tension throughout the beginning of the film, as Neeson’s character assesses the situation, trying to figure out who on the plane is sending the threatening texts. Unfortunately, other than Julianne Moore, who provides the bonding relationship Neeson’s character needs, many of the other secondary characters add little to the story. Corey Stoll in particular, who was incredible in Season 1 of Netflix’s “House of Cards,” is given a stale and overused role as the angry guy demanding to know what is going on.

Somewhere around the midpoint, the film’s once interesting plot slowly starts to dissipate into a sort of whodunit that, quite frankly, isn’t that difficult to figure it out. From there, the movie features a final act that is predictable and absurd, even considering the ridiculous synopsis that requires a certain suspension of disbelief. Not to mention, there’s a political message that feels completely shoehorned. As a result, “Non-Stop” squanders its tense and unique set up and becomes typical action movie fare.

Battleship

May 18, 2012 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Taylor Kitsch, Liam Neeson, Rihanna
Directed by: Peter Berg (“Hancock”)
Written by: Erich Hoeber (“RED”) and Jon Hoeber (“RED”)

I never actually played Battleship when I was a kid. By that I mean I played a game called Sea Battle, a wonky electronic knock-off sold by Radio Shack. My sister and I would play, entering the locations of our fleet into the game’s screwy memory. The idea was that you’d punch the coordinates into the game while announcing them out loud, and the game would reference its two kilobytes of memory and register a hit with the sound of a bomb whistling followed by an explosion; a miss would be the whistle followed by silence. As was the case with all the battery-powered garbage Radio Shack sold, it rarely worked correctly…a trait I had no idea would prepare me for a movie that wouldn’t be released until 25 years later.

Based on the Hasbro board game of the same name, “Battleship” begins with a block of text detailing The Beacon Project, an effort by scientists to contact a distant planet capable of sustaining life. High-powered satellites blast beams of energy into deep space and receive an answer in the form of a relatively small alien invasion. After one of their ships crashes into Pacific near Hawaii, the U.S. Navy is sent to investigate. The aliens react by attacking and erecting a force field around three ships, forcing the sailors on board to engage the enemy in combat without the benefit of reinforcements.

Perhaps recognizing that the movie’s source material is nothing but a plot-less guessing game that happens to feature naval vessels, Hasbro and director Peter Berg (“Friday Night Lights”) have decided that the solution to that problem is to make “Battleship” look and sound as much like Michael Bay’s  “Transformers” movies as possible. Berg apes Bay so relentlessly, from sweeping shots of military equipment to the incomprehensible close-ups of spinning and whirring alien technology to everything being SO GODDAMN LOUD, you’d swear that the invading aliens would turn out to be farting racial stereotypes.

Thankfully Berg avoids Bay’s penchant for terrible humor, but in the end he’s still managed to turn in just another brain-dead destruco-porn alien invasion movie. A paper-thin premise (that would be that battleships exist and shoot things) is gussied up with a metric ton of summer movie crap with no regard for how little sense it makes. Space-faring aliens versus a sea-faring battleship? Why the hell don’t the aliens just fly away?

On the bright side, Taylor Kitsch (of mega-bomb “John Carter” and Berg’s TV version of “Friday Night Lights”) scores a red peg, bringing moments of charm to the otherwise routine role of “impulsive hothead wasting his potential suddenly thrust into character-defining action,” and he earns real laughs breaking into a convenience store during an otherwise unnecessary prologue. The same can’t be said of the rest of the cast of white pegs, however. Liam Neeson is simply cashing a paycheck, with only about 10 minutes of screen time spread out over the entire movie. Singer Rihanna is stuck in drab fatigues for the entire movie, thus hiding her only real talent. Model Brooklyn Decker is at least given skimpy outfits to wear, but she’s also supposed to be playing a character that isn’t a model, so the whole thing falls apart. And real-life former soldier and double amputee Gregory D. Gadson stretches his limited acting ability and dignity to the breaking point when he ends up in a fistfight with a CGI alien.

Some clever touches warrant a smile or two, such as the aliens’ weapons or the impromptu grid system set up to track and attack them resembling aspects of the board game. But the empty stupidity ultimately is too powerful to overcome, sinking this “Battleship.”

Wrath of the Titans

March 30, 2012 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Sam Worthington, Liam Neeson, Ralph Fiennes, Rosamund Pike
Directed by: Jonathan Liebesman (“Battle: Los Angeles”)
Written by: Dan Mazeau (debut) and David Leslie Johnson (“Red Riding Hood”)

When we last left our hero, half man/half god Perseus (Sam Worthington), he had saved a princess, squared off with the gods, and defeated the Kraken to wrap up 2010’s “Clash of the Titans,” the poorly-received remake of the 1981 film of the same name. While the weak script was about as deep as a Grecian urn, the spectacular action sequences drove the mythological motion picture to nearly half a billion dollars at the box office, paving the way for more adventures featuring the ass-kicking demigod in the sequel “Wrath of the Titans.”

“Wrath” picks up the story 10 years after the events of the first film. The time of the gods is drawing to a close thanks to humanity’s lack of devotion and worship, and their weakened state has made containing the imprisoned Titans a difficult task. Led by Kronos, a giant lava monster and father to Zeus (Liam Neeson) and Hades (Ralph Fiennes), the angered Titans threaten to wipe out both the gods and mankind. The world’s only hope lies in convincing Perseus, content as a father and a fisherman, to hop on the back of his Pegasus and wield his sword once again.

Even with a sparse script that seems better suited for a video game, “Wrath” manages to improve on its predecessor in the screenwriting department. That isn’t to say it’s well-written or anything, but at least the brevity of it leads to it being not quite as big a mess of mythology and melodrama this time around. Director Jonathan Liebesman (“Battle: Los Angeles”) wisely amps up the action, pausing only long enough on plot points to set up the next set piece. From a forest battle with a pair of giant Cyclopes to perilous trek through a massive labyrinth to a final battle with the aforementioned towering lava monster, “Wrath” rarely lets up the visual assault.

Worthington’s Perseus remains a hero of few words, which is probably for the best. As estranged godly brothers, “Schindler’s List” co-stars Neeson and Fiennes bask in the cheese while making the most of their expanded screen time, getting a chance to enter the battle this time instead of standing around in the heavens unleashing Krakens and whatnot. While Rosamund Pike’s Queen Andromeda (replacing “Clash’s” Alexa Davalos in the role) merely fills the generic love interest role in Perseus’ team, Toby Kebbell’s demigod Agenor brings some welcome comic relief to the quest. And an always-welcome Bill Nighy delights as daffy fallen god Hephaestus, who’s choice in a conversation partner proves that the only people who still want a goofy clockwork owl hanging out in their fantasy action movies are, indeed, crazy.

The Grey

February 3, 2012 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Liam Neeson, Dallas Roberts, Frank Grillo
Directed by: Joe Carnahan  (“The A-Team”)
Written by: Joe Carnahan (“The A-Team”) and Ian Mackenzie Jeffers (“Death Sentence”)

What is man’s most primal fear? Losing everything he loves? Dying alone? The unknown? These are only a few of the themes explored in “The Grey,” a surprisingly thoughtful character-driven thriller with a lot more to say than most man vs. Mother Nature survival stories. Imagine if all films that fell under this category were as emotionally rich as, say, “Cast Away,” “127 Hours,” “Into the Wild,” or “Jeremiah Johnson.” It might be easier to examine a lone man fighting for life than to tackle the complexities of a group under siege, but “The Grey” gets about as close as any mainstream movie has in recent years with its study of a team of oil drillers.

Director/writer Joe Carnahan, who broke into the scene in 2002 with the gritty, well-executed cop drama “Narc” before dropping two cinematic bombs (“Smokin’ Aces,” “The A-Team”), was motivated by the fear of being known for those last two mind-numbing contributions. “I started getting concerned that I was being viewed … as this schmucky action director that doesn’t really have anything meaningful to say,” Carnahan admitted during an interview with NPR last week. With “The Grey,” Carnahan, who is currently linked to a “Death Wish” remake and a crime drama centered on Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar, doesn’t have to worry anymore. “The Grey” has substance without getting too preachy or philosophical.

Led by John Ottway (Liam Neeson in another alpha-male role), a team of suddenly planeless oil drillers must fend off a vicious pack of grey wolves stalking them from the darkness of the snow-covered wilderness. Walk into “The Grey” hoping to see a wolf get dropkicked in the snout or a stockpile of wolf-eaten bodies and be prepared for disappointment. This isn’t about man-on-wolf combat as much as it is about confronting one’s own mortality. It may have felt insincere had it been anyone else screaming to God to show him a sign He exists, but with Neeson digging as deep as he does it all rings unexpectedly true.

Clash of the Titans

April 2, 2010 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Sam Worthington, Liam Neeson, Ralph Fiennes
Directed by: Louis Leterrier (“The Incredible Hulk”)
Written by: Travis Beacham (“Dog Days of Summer”), Phil Hay (“Aeon Flux”), Matt Manfredi (“Aeon Flux”)

“Clash of the Titans” is the type of movie where overblown ideas are enough to get a studio to pull the trigger on a production. Disregard a descent script; gigantic scorpions should be just enough to keep the box office bustling for a while.

While adding big-budget special effects to 1981’s kitschy Ray Harryhausen-inspired cult classic might be passable for teenage boys waiting on the next “Transformers” installment, anyone actually interested in the mythological context of our heroes and villains will be hard-pressed to uncover an actual dramatic narrative to go along with the raging CGI and lax 3-D images. If studios were looking for someone to be interchangeable with Michael Bay, they may have found him in director Louis Leterrier (“The Incredible Hulk,” “Transporter 2”). Leterrier – along with his trio of screenwriters – offers some escapism, but fails to deliver much more than the stock epic standard.

In “Clash,” Sam Worthington (“Avatar”) plays Perseus, the demigod son of Zeus (Liam Neeson) who wages war against Hades (Ralph Fiennes) and his Underworld minions. Hades has killed Perseus’s mortal family and is conjuring up some trouble for his brother Zeus on Mount Olympus. He has also threatened to unleash a massive sea monster known as the Kraken on the people of Argos if they do not kill the princess Andromeda (Alexa Davalos).

Chaos reigns for the most part in “Clash” as Leterrier sidesteps any real characterization when introducing us to the men (and one woman) on Perseus’s crew. Gemma Arterton plays the lone female warrior Io, who is also Perseus’s spiritual guide. The rest of the cast has about as much personality as a colossal Greek column. Even Worthington, when he’s not flanked by computer-generated creatures, couldn’t be labeled much more interesting than any of the oiled-up heroes in “Troy” or those in the original “Clash” for that matter.

If watching Perseus chop the head off the slithery Medusa, ride a Black Stallion version of the Pegasus, or duke it out with the Kraken is enough, have at it (save some cash and watch it in 2-D though. The updated 3-D version is a mere marketing ploy and does nothing for the action sequences). If, however, you’re looking for even the slightest bit of cohesive storytelling, “Clash” is a mediocre entry into the fantasy genre. Medusa might turn men into stone with one glance, but Leterrier and company are just as guilty of turning it into a movie as dumb as a bag full of rocks.

Chloe

March 26, 2010 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Amanda Seyfried, Julianne Moore, Liam Neeson
Directed by: Atom Egoyan (“Adoration”)
Written by: Anne Fontaine (“Coco Before Chanel”)

It’s evident from the start how much director Atom Egoyan (“The Sweet Hereafter,” “Exotica”) wants to keep the title character in “Chloe” as enigmatic as possible. It’s surprising, however, when he doesn’t pull back the curtain in the slightest to give us a glimpse of a real character. By the end, Chloe (Amanda Seyfried) – no matter how intriguing she is at first – never develops into more than a mere set piece in a cumbersome story.

Lacking drama, passion, and genuine seductive moments, “Chole” feels like a bargain basement romance novel with little spirit and intention. The story follows New York gynecologist Catherine Stewart (Julianne Moore) who suspects her college-professor husband David (Liam Neeson) is cheating on her with one of his students.

While there is some evidence of his infidelity, Catherine wants to be certain. She decides to do what any other woman would (yeah right) and hires Chloe (Seyfried), a high-class prostitute, to assist her with a social experiment on her husband. Catherine asks Chloe to present herself to David like any two strangers would meet on any given day, flirt a bit, and see if he takes the bait. As these rendezvous become more consistent, Catherine wants detailed reports of their meetings. Chloe obliges and reveals every steamy scenario that plays out between her and David.

But as the bizarre love triangle continues, director Egoyan wrestles with the exact tone he wants for the second half of the film. When Chloe begins to show interest in Catherine and then in Catherine and David’s disrespectful teenage son Michael (Max Thieriot), the air of sexual tension is slowly let out of the narrative as Chloe extends her screen time by adding needless mischief to the already far-fetched premise. Once “Chloe” hits the “Fatal Attraction” plateau it’s a lost cause.

“Chloe” would have worked much better as an intelligent character study, but instead Egoyan shifts back and forth from tasteful to tawdry without much explanation. While Moore, Seyfried, and Neeson do as much as they can with their characters, the script expands in too many directions for Egoyan to make sense of anything with a deeper meaning than just the sex itself.

Taken

January 14, 2009 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Starring: Liam Neeson, Famke Janssen, Maggie Grace
Directed by: Pierre Morel (“District B13”)
Written by: Luc Besson (“Unleashed”) and Robert Mark Kamen (“The Transporter”)

Since its released date was pushed back last year by Twentieth Century Fox a few times before landing in U.S. theaters in January 2009, one may wonder why “Taken,” a Liam Neeson-charged action thriller, seemed to finally be tossed out like an insignificant ball on a roulette table.

A theory: The studio had so many appalling movies hit theaters in 2008 (“Meet the Spartans,” “Shutter,” “Meet Dave”), it’s only natural that after being scorched so many times, they would pull their hand away from the fire.

“Taken,” however, isn’t as flawed as other Fox attempts last year like “What Happens in Vegas,” “The Happening,” and “Max Payne.” Basically, it’s a standard offering to the genre that neither scrapes the bottom of the barrel nor makes you hope Neeson wants Matt Damon’s “Bourne” gig in the near future.

In “Taken,” Neeson plays Bryan Mills, an ex-CIA agent who moves cities to be closer to his teenage daughter Kim (Maggie Grace) so he can make up for lost time. Kim lives with her stepfather and mother Lenore (Famke Jenssen) who still holds a grudge against her ex-husband for always prioritizing his job before his family when they were married.

Still, Bryan is ready to be the father he never was and starts by telling Kim he doesn’t want her to go on a trip to Paris that she has planned with her girl friend. Although Bryan is well aware of how dangerous it is for two young female American tourists to be traveling alone, he gives in when he sees how detested he is when playing the role of overprotective father.

His intuition proves to be right, however, when an underground Albanian gang known for human trafficking kidnaps Kim and her friend in Paris. With only a 96-hour window to find her (as a ex-spook he knows this), Bryan jets off to France to use his “particular set of skills” against the men who have taken his daughter.

In a quick and painless 86 minutes, “Taken” is efficient in pacing and delivers some satisfactory fight choreography but fires blanks as an innovative narrative. “Taken” feels so much like other revenge films before it, each scene becomes more and more predictable that the one it follows.

While Neeson is no Harrison Ford, his physicality is believable enough that we can endure his trek across Europe to find his child. But when screenwriters Luc Besson (“Unleashed”) and Robert Mark Kamen (“The Transporter”) give him dialogue like, “I’ll tear down the Eiffel Tower if I have to” to describe his fatherly rage, “Taken” squanders the opportunity to at least be a guilty mindless pleasure.