Monday, February 9, 2009

Taken: Take This Movie, Please

February is traditionally the deadest month for cinema (yes, pun intended). More specifically - the time between the Oscar nominations and the awards ceremony. That's when the studios dump all the duds in their vault on the Oscar-movie-laden public. It's a form of counter-programming.

Sometimes this kind of February-cum-summer-movie programming can be a fun escape. Unfortunately, this was not the case with Taken, an uninspired 24 rip-off that in comparison makes Jack Bower seem like the world's most suave diplomat.

Taken - staring Liam Neeson, as retired spy Bryan Mills, in the unlikely rogue agent role - operates under the kind of least common denominator philosophy that if one bad is good, more bad must be better. Thus we get not one kidnapped victim, but two; not one set of baddies to dispatch, but three. Ratcheting up the murder-to-pleasure ratio is fine, but this movie wants to OD on it. The bad guys not only don't mind kidnapping, drugging, raping, and selling Bryan's daughter in front of his face, they don't even want to negotiate with him. Naturally they deserved to be killed in the most gruesome ways possible, though even the killing could have used a little more imagination.

Basically, if you've seen any other thriller (starting with 24) you already know the plot of this movie: innocent girl is kidnapped; Daddy has the "skills" to go after and karate chop the killers like James Bond on speed. There's not much else to this movie except ripping off scenes from better thrillers (such as the car chase in Ronin, a James Bond stunt scene, or Bourne Identity style detective work). So I've gotta ask: what director stages a car chase scene where all the cars, including the hero's, are the same model white truck? You can't even tell who's chasing whom. And let's not forget that Mr. Mills has a bitch of an ex that would make Alan Harper on Two and a Half Men blush. Naturally the whole point of this exercise seems to be so that she can come around to embrace our guy as a hero at the end.

Then there's the fact that the two kidnapped girls are total Britteny's. Getting a pony from your super rich Daddy in your gargantuan mansion for your eighteenth birthday doesn't exactly make them relatable to 99.99% of the audience. And they kind of make being kidnapped, drugged, and sold into white slavery seem like another form of Eurail pass. I totally don't understand the character of this bubblishish airhead daughter who is supposed to be the object of all this excitement. If it were up to me, I'd think twice about executing the entire expatriate population of Albania just to get her back. I do, however, feel sorry for Mr. Neeson, whose career seems to be on the skids having to helm this kind of script.

But I have a great way to improve this movie: The Wayans brothers should have stared as the kidnapped girls. At least that way the laughter in the audience would have been intentional.

So now I've probably dished this movie enough and should point out the few things that keep me from giving it a total zero. First, the issue of white slavery is kind of interesting, and I do think there's some imagination going into illustrating how this whole seedy operation works. They obviously watched enough documentaries on the subject to give the screenplay an air of authenticity.

And then there's Neeson, who even with this flat character is able to turn in a watchable performance. He seems to be a guy totally uncomfortable with his own prowess, like a reluctant tiger who kills because he's being bothered by a tick on his neck, and his creates a kind of nervous intensity that carries you through the hour an a half. He is a pussy whipped superspy who can take out a squadron of armed assassins with his bare hands but can't come up with a simple retort to his ex wife - I suppose that's some writer's idea of a delicious irony but I just found it irritatingly implausible. Nevertheless, Neeson kind of sees his way through this character enough to get you past the contradictions in the set up and well into the second act before you fully realize just how under imagined everything else in this story is going to be.

And then I will also say this: the movie has a beginning, a middle, and an end. That may sound a bit condescending, but I actually mean that as a compliment. A lot of better movies can't even do that, and I give this one kudos for picking a story and sticking to it. There's no doubt that this script knew where it was going from the start and it certainly knew how to get there.

I'm just not sure I wanted to go there. Fortunately, the audience I saw the movie with was self entertaining. If it hadn't been for their laughter and fun comments as the story unwound, the second half of the film wouldn't have been nearly as bearable.


  1. I'm sorry to say but I really enjoyed this film.

  2. Im not sorry, but i really dig this movie,Neeson's courage and determination keeps you from crying, you sit on the edge waiting for his next move. Yes was kinda predictable, but in agood way! a friend of mine has watched it for the third time(maybe this is an obsession on his part)


  3. It makes me feel better to know that some people enjoyed this movie. I'd hate to think all that effort didn't reach an audience somewhere.