Saturday, January 31

Taken -- Ass-Kick Review


Taken is a nasty little thriller with modest ambitions and professional execution.
Taken has many hallmarks of Ass-Kick B-Moviedom. 1) A generic but hard-nosed title. 2) A mid-January release date (the traditional dumping ground for the Hollywood studios.) 3) A long in the tooth 2nd tier star. 4) A twist on the traditional hard-boiled rescue plot. 5) Luc Besson’s name in the credits. That is not to say that all of those are BAD things. I love Ass-Kick B-movies.
Let’s discuss these elements in order:

1) Taken –a pretty good but forgettable title. It’s a no nonsense thriller about a superspy hunting down his missing daughter on the mean streets of Paris. It’s definitely inspired by Frantic another Euro-thriller starring a long in the tooth FIRST tier star (Harrison Ford) playing a doctor looking for his missing wife on the mean streets of Paris. The key difference is that Frantic was directed by the legendary Roman Polanski. I’m not saying that Taken director Pierre Morel isn’t in the same league as Roman Polanski, but… okay, yeah I am saying that Pierre Morel isn’t in the same league as Roman Polanski. Far fewer statutory rape convictions, though.

A quick check at imdb shows that Pierre was the cinematographer on stylish but silly French action films like The Transporter starring Jason Statham, Unleashed AKA Danny The Dog starring Jet Li and War starring Jason Statham AND Jet Li. Taken is a better title and a better film than both of those, and much, MUCH better than District B-13 the futuristic parkour actioner that Pierre directed. District B-13 sounds like a city zoning regulation and its a strong contender for the worst film title of all time. I haven’t seen it yet, but if the title is any indication of film quality then Taken steals it’s girlfriend and kicks sand in it’s face.

2) Mid-January Release Date – Taken doesn’t have the budget or brand recognition of say Wolverine or Transformers 2 which are traditional big budget summer movies. I wouldn’t be surprised if Taken turns out to be better than both of those, but only time will tell.

3) The Long in the Tooth Star is Liam Neeson. I love Liam but he’s looking puffier these days and he has a really dubious haircut (bad dye job and fluttery bangs) that is distracting for most of the film. I prefer Ass-Kick heroes who have no use for hair-care products or better yet, have no hair. Liam is also 5 years removed from Batman Begins and 10 years removed from Star Wars 1. Like Harrison Ford he’s becoming less convincing as a bad-ass kill-master by the decade. Still, Liam has a strong presence and a no-B.S. acting approach that suits the material here.
[Note: For the worst action movie hair I have to nominate Straight-To-Video Steven Seagal who has a glued on triangular felt widow’s peak that makes him resemble The Count from Sesame Street. It’s just bizarre. Bonus mullet in this photo.]

4) Plot – In a comically short time a teenage girl is kidnapped about four minutes after landing in Paris and Taken to some dank euro-dungeon where bad things will likely happen to her. Her dad, an Ex-Secret Government Agent will stop at nothing to rescue her from those rat-bastard Albanians that made her Taken. Yeah, that’s right, the Albanians are the villains this time. So it's the standard race against time rescue plot, but the treat of the movie is watching a highly-trained superspy karate-chopping scumbag Albanian dudes in their Adam’s apples. The Jason Bourne movies are another obvious influence in style and plotting.

5) Luc Besson started his career directing art-house thrillers and really earned his Ass-Kick gold stars with Le Femme Nikita and Leon The Professional. Since then he’s directed less frequently with crap like that terrible Joan Of Arc movie. No, not that one, the other one. And Arthur and the Invisibles. I didn’t see it, but it’s a kid’s movie about magical fairies or something. Needless to say that will continue to go unseen by me. Lately Luc has become the French Michael Bay, producing an endless stream of bad action movies. Any French movie with kung fu and guns and not featuring smoldering hot French babes smoking and talking about sex is probably Luc’s. Taken is one of his best films in years.

ASS-KICK EVALUATION: Taken definitely pays off it’s Ass-Kick premise with Liam as an unstoppable force mowing through armies of ugly Albanian dudes. I liked how he keeps collecting guns from his fallen opponents. However, for such a violent film it’s pretty bloodless. I guess the French sensors don’t mind how many guys you shoot or cripple, just don’t show any bloody consequences. Also, Liam is a little too unstoppable. He barely gets a scratch through most of the movie. He’s like The Terminator in a natty suit. There’s a perfunctory scene where Liam gets handcuffed and roughed up, but even that doesn’t phase him for long.

Also, I know this is going to come as a shock to fans of Ass-Kick films, but I’m not really impressed by car chases. Sure, once in a while one comes along that blows me away—Bullitt, French Connection, Batman Begins but for the most part they’re repetitive and predictable. Luc loves car chases, producing an entire movie series around them, Taxi 1,2,3,4. My Ass-Kick Philosophy doesn’t revel in twisting metal and broken glass, otherwise every Michael Bay film would be an instant classic. I'm more interested in the Ass-Kick emotion (the thrill sensation) and empathy for the characters in said car chase. Also the filmmakers didn’t have the budget so we don’t actually SEE much car-to-car contact, and there are two unconvincing and tension-free scenes with Liam driving up the wrong in traffic. Clearly they didn’t steal ENOUGH from the Jason Bourne movies.

There is one scene that damages the movie for me. There's a scene of Neeson torturing a criminal to get information that was uncomfortable for the wrong reasons. It’s justified in the story because Liam is running out of time and needs the information at all costs. But in a movie that’s pure escapism it's unsettling to root for our hero’s torturing skills. It’s just bad taste in this post-Guantanamo-War On Terror age, and in a film this silly and weightless it's not justified.

FINAL ANALYSIS: A modest, entertaining little thriller that shows what a good actor can do with a solid Ass-Kick premise. Steven Seagal would die for a premise this good. Expect him to star in “Taken to Kill” coming out sometime next week.

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