Liam Neeson

Taken 2

If some is good, more is better, right?  When it comes to movies, maybe not so much.  A sequel can be a logical continuation of an original idea, or it can be a watered-down duplicate that serves nothing.  Guess which category Taken 2 falls in?  As much as I was looking forward to Liam Neeson’s (The Grey) reprisal of Bryan Mills, aka Super Dad – the results were rather disappointing.

When we last saw Bryan Mills, he was saving his teenaged daughter from sex traffickers who kidnapped her and her friend.  Bryan rescued his daughter in daring fashion, while leaving numerous bodies in his wake.  Fast forward a few years, and the families of the men that Bryan killed want revenge.  I don’t know how much time is supposed to have elapsed since the first movie, but it can’t have been a long time.  Bryan’s daughter Kim was a teenager before, and she still is.  She’s 16 now; a fact that is patently absurd when considering that actress Maggie Grace (Lockout) recently turned 29.  She looks every bit of it, but ridiculous casting is least of what’s wrong with Taken 2.

In the first movie, the plot was original, and the action seemed to unfold organically.  Bryan was resourceful, and all of his fighting scenes were realistic.  Neeson was perfect as the seasoned former government agent whose skillset uniquely equipped him for a rescue mission.  This time around, he seems a step slower and the entire plot feels forced.  After all that has recently happened, one would think that the Mills family would take added precautions when traveling internationally.  Nope.  They express no reluctance in traveling to Turkey to meet up with Bryan while he travels on a business trip.

Brian’s daughter Kim and his ex-wife Lenore (Famke Janssen, X-Men: The Last Stand) join him in Istanbul; while unbeknownst to them they are being tracked by bloodthirsty Albanians.  They want to avenge the murders of their sons and brothers who were killed by Bryan in the last movie.  Eventually Lenore and Bryan are kidnapped in Istanbul, but he is able to get word to Kim back at the hotel, forewarning her before she too is abducted.  He was able to warn Kim because his captors allowed him to make the phone call right in front of them while they held him at gunpoint.  What followed was scene after scene of stupefying occurrences, each more absurd than the one preceding it.  Nearly everything about Taken 2 was unbelievable, from a decidedly middle-aged Neeson easily dispatching much younger men, to Kim somehow morphing into an Angelina Jolie action character.  When she expertly darted across rooftops while throwing hand grenades with Aaron Rodgers-like accuracy, I checked out of the movie.

My friends with whom I saw Taken 2 shared my disappointment.  I thought it began well enough, but as soon as the meat of the action got underway, it was all downhill.  There was only one good fighting scene because it was the only one that was remotely believable.  Neeson is a fine actor, and I’m not saying that he’s too old for an action movie, but this is a movie that didn’t need to happen.  The camera shots even seemed sped up in order to create the illusion that he could actually pull off the fighting scenes and they didn’t look authentic.  Taken 2 looks like it will open at the top spot in the box office, but I’ll bet it plummets by next week.  If you’re looking for a good movie to see, I’d suggest Looper.  It has a much better plot and a better performance by an aging action star (Bruce Willis).  Grade: C

The preceding article first appeared at Poptimal and was reprinted with permission

The Grey

I like Liam Neeson (Unknown) a lot.  He was under my radar for a while, and the only thing I remembered him for was Schindler’s List, which is old as hell.  Recently he’s been featured in roles that show him as heroic and resourceful, and I think he displays an understated strength on screen.  It’s actually quite attractive.  Ever since Taken he has proven capable of taking roles that challenge his character and test his resilience.  And he’s pretty hot for an old(er) guy.

The Grey is the story of a group of oil drillers who survive an airplane crash, leaving them stranded in the Alaskan wilderness.  Neeson is featured as Ottway, a solitary man whose job it is to protect the drillers from wolves while they work.  The drillers have a thankless job, working in bone-chilling whether, completely isolated from everyone but each other.  Ottway is very lonely, and we learn through dreamy flashbacks that he has lost a woman he loved.  His cold environment does nothing to warm his heart, and he even contemplates suicide.  Well, obviously we know he’s not going to pull the trigger or else The Grey would have only lasted about 30 minutes.  I thought his aborted suicide attempt was perhaps a bit of foreshadowing, since I knew from the trailer that their plane was going to crash.  Maybe Ottway is resilient, and this fortitude will serve him well later.  When their plane goes down, he quickly emerges as natural leader of the small band of survivors.

The majority of the movie shows Ottway and six other survivors as they traverse the bleak landscape, trying desperately to evade a large pack of predatory wolves.  The wolves quickly claimed their first victim shortly after the plane went down, and Ottway determines that they cannot remain near the wreckage.  Thus begins their arduous journey over the frozen tundra.  Not only must they navigate the frigid terrain, they must harness their competing egos and stick together if they hope to survive.

Neeson gave a good performance, and he was believable as the resourceful hero.  Unfortunately, I don’t have anything else good to say about this movie.  I thought it would be an action-packed tale of survival and triumph, as the men (or most of them) emerged victorious after learning to appreciate their lives and finding true purpose.  Instead, The Grey was a bleak, meandering tale riddled with implausible scenarios and befuddling behavior.  There’s one scene that is just fu**ing impossible.  I won’t spoil it for you – not that you’d care.  There is nothing triumphant about this movie.  I’ve been told that if you stick around for the credits (I did not), you’ll have an extra scene.  Yeah, let’s save cool features like that for good movies, not tripe like this.  I heard about the scene, and even if I would’ve stuck around for it I don’t think my opinion would be any different.  This one would be a waste of money folks.   Good thing I snuck in.