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Entries in Taken (3)

Friday
Mar132015

Run All Night

Liam Neeson shooting people. If that sounds like a familiar premise for a film, it’s for good reason. Over the last seven years, ever since Neeson surprised everyone with his transition into action territory with “Taken,” it seems to be the only type of movie the once respected actor has made. A man who was once nominated for an Oscar for his performance in “Schindler’s List” has since built a generic filmography that makes him more or less a walking joke. Seemingly every film, from “Taken” to last year’s “Non-Stop” follows the same at-this-point worn-down formula, with each film becoming more of a slog than the last. “Run All Night” could be the worst one yet, as it simply goes through the motions without doing much of anything particularly interesting.

Neeson plays Jimmy Conlon, a mobster who finds himself in a precarious situation with his boss after, through some of the most contrived circumstances I’ve ever seen in a major motion picture, he ends up shooting his son. Once friends, that boss, played by Ed Harris, is now an enemy and plans on making him feel the same hurt by taking his own son, Mike, played by Joel Kinnaman, away from him. Naturally, Jimmy will do anything to prevent that from happening, which leads to one long night of shootouts and chases.

And I mean loooong night. Not since last year’s “Transformers: Age of Extinction” has a movie been so unnecessarily long in relation to the complexity, or lack thereof, of its story. Thankfully, “Run All Night” isn’t quite as long as that movie, as it clocks in at roughly two hours, but it feels about the same. Characterization and emotion is minimal, though the film tries to create some of both with amateur screenplay tactics—Mike is estranged from Jimmy, meaning he has never met his own grandkids, all the while he’s freezing in his home because the poor guy can’t afford to fix his heater, etc.—so there’s very little grab onto here. In fact, it’s one of those rare films where I was actually rooting for the supposed “good guy” to lose.

You see, despite attempts to make Jimmy a likable character, his introduction shows him as the boorish pig he is, as he dresses up as Santa, gets drunk, treats the kids around him poorly and then proceeds to speak to an attractive woman in what can only be described as sexually abusive language. The introduction to this character is so bad that it leaves a lasting impression that later acts of goodwill fail to reverse, though even if it did, a late film reveal shows the true cowardice and selfishness of his personality.

Meanwhile, his boss, Shawn, shows empathy and even a tinge of regret. When he turns down a business deal with a local drug dealer trying to peddle heroine, he explains it’s because when he did something similar in his younger, more naïve days, it led to too much hardship, as those he loved became hooked on it and he lost them all. He’s still a bad guy, of course, and has most certainly done or ordered people to do worse things than Jimmy, but the film, perhaps unintentionally, paints him in a better light than the supposed hero.

Simply put, “Run All Night” has everything backwards and its tepid action does little to hide that fact. Its action is accompanied by few truly heart racing moments and lots of far-too-dark cinematography, occasionally aggressive close-ups and shaky cam and shot reverse shot shootouts. It feels very much like action filmmaking 101, like what an amateur filmmaker without the experience to truly know what he or she is doing would produce if given millions of dollars to toy with.

Run All Night receives 1/5

Friday
Feb282014

Non-Stop

When a film’s opening shots consist of its protagonist prepping a hard drink for himself, it’s hard to not assume the events that follow will be a little heavy-handed. When it’s in slow motion, it’s also easy to assume that it’s going to be a tad laughable. But when he starts swirling the concoction around with a toothbrush, of all things, the thought that comes to mind is that it’s going to be ridiculous. Well, “Non-Stop” is a little bit of all three. The character’s back story is inconsistent and exists solely as a means to force drama and the motivation of the mystery killer or killers is worthy of an eye roll, but it all plays out in such a ridiculous, over-the-top way that, if anything can be said for it, it’s never dull. That doesn’t mean it’s good, mind you, but if you’re looking for a stupid Liam Neeson thriller where you can turn your brain off, I suppose it works.

Bill (Neeson) is an Air Marshal prepping himself, through the consumption of alcohol, for a transatlantic flight. He hopes all will go well, as countless flights before this one have, but once in the air, he receives a text message on his supposedly secure phone from an anonymous person who demands $150 million to be transferred to an off-shore account. For every 20 minutes this doesn’t happen, this person is going to kill a passenger. Bill immediately springs into action, but he’s up against a cunning mind, one that has pre-planned everything and saving the people on this plane is not going to be easy.

Liam Neeson surprised everyone and proved himself as a capable action star with 2008’s “Taken” and even showed he could carry a mystery in 2011’s “Unknown.” In a sense, “Non-Stop” tries to blend those two together and the result is a jumbled mess, despite the cool, if admittedly thin, premise, but the problems arise quickly once you realize the movie has no idea what to do with it. Instead of actually investigating the mystery, “Non-Stop” features what can only be described as an intense text war. He prods and pokes and tries to get information from the person on the other end of the incessant messaging, but finding actual clues happens almost solely by accident.

When he does make an attempt to reveal the texter’s identity, he does so in ways that makes the most transparent person in the world look subtle. His tactics are obvious, to the point where nearly anyone on the plane could see or hear what he’s doing; for example, loudly asking his row mate, Jen (Julianne Moore), to watch the screens that transmit camera footage of the passengers, the screens that are directly in front of the very people she’s watching. While the film does raise some palpable suspense at times, Bill’s far-too-direct methods essentially kill it, as it’s far too easy to realize that nothing’s going to come from his attempts. Late in the movie when he makes a redemptive speech about how he’s not a good father or good man, it takes every ounce of self-control to not stand up and yell, “You’re not so hot an Air Marshal either.”

“Non-Stop” is a turn-off-your-brain-and-enjoy-it type of film. It demands very little with its simple story and could have succeeded solely based on its desire to be a popcorn film. If that is its intention, how can one fault it for being just that? But then the reveal happens and, without ruining anything, an out-of-left-field political message rears its ugly head. Whether one agrees or disagrees with the sentiments, it has no reason to exist in this movie. Why can’t the motivation behind the actions similarly be simple? Why can’t the perpetrator(s) simply want to be rich? The forced message in what amounts to a nonsense film sucks any goodwill one may have for it up to that point right out the window.

Much of this won’t matter for some of the more astute viewers anyway, as the eventual reveal isn’t all too surprising, so it’s likely they’ll have checked out far before it happens. If you’re familiar with other popular TV shows and movies, you’ll immediately know which passengers to focus on, as these stars wouldn’t relegate themselves to extras, and then it’s just a matter of time before you’re able to dwindle down the possibilities, though the movie does a good enough job of doing that itself with far too heavy trickery to try to throw you off the trail. We’ve seen these tricks hundreds of times before, so they don’t work.

Still, it’s hard to truly trash “Non-Stop.” It’s dumb, but, aside from that wrongheaded political reveal, it doesn’t aspire to be anything more. If the idea of Liam Neeson being Liam Neeson-y on a plane appeals to your senses, have at it. It’s not great, but you could do worse.

Non-Stop receives 2/5

Friday
Feb052010

From Paris with Love

In the first quarter of every year, there seems to be at least one action packed thriller in theaters. Last year we were treated to the excellent Taken, an entertaining action film that became even more so once the unrated, and far better, DVD was released. A year later, almost to the day, the filmmakers behind Taken are releasing another action picture, From Paris with Love, a movie with a similar style, but none of the polish.

Jonathan Rhys Meyers plays James Reece, a man who works for the American Embassy in Paris and is working on getting promoted to a secret agent. His next assignment, the one that will finally give him that much desired promotion, is to haul Charlie Wax, played gratingly by John Travolta, around town as he does his dirty work busting bad guys and stopping a terrorist organization from unleashing their next fiendish scheme.

How original. How unique. How, shall I say, avant garde of From Paris with Love to come up with such an unconventional plot. This movie is nothing more than other, better movies rolled into one. Travolta plays a character similar to his role in the recent Taking of Pelham 123, it uses the style of Taken, steals the title from James Bond's second film, From Russia with Love, and plays like a buddy cop movie, kind of like Lethal Weapon without the laughs, excitement, character depth or fun. There wasn't a frame of this thing where I saw even a hint of originality.

You'd think with the director of Taken and the penman behind it concocting this story, there would be something to desire here, but there simply isn't. It's written so poorly, from the dialogue to the reoccurring motif, that a credible threat is never even established. From Paris with Love goes from scene to scene without so much as an explanation as to what is going on and why. All we know is that a terrorist organization is planning an attack, and we only learn that after dealing with an array of drug smugglers whose relevance to the plot is questionable. The problem lies in its broadness. Who is the leader of the terrorist organization? Is there any real reason they want to carry out this attack? The film never makes it clear who the characters are fighting against, so the whole routine becomes nothing more than shooting galleries where Charlie picks off dozens of indistinguishable men for unclear reasons.

I wouldn't say that's necessarily a problem for all films. Some movies can have little to no story and still be a blast if the action scenes are carried out well (like Taken for instance), but the ones here are so bland that they may as well have been shooting water guns at each other. Nothing particularly exciting happens in any of them because most merely consist of Charlie popping in and out of cover while an endless parade of baddies rush through the door seemingly oblivious of their fallen comrades. I felt like I was watching a video game and had the controller taken away from me.

If anything, From Paris with Love gives me a newfound appreciation for The Book of Eli and Edge of Darkness, two recent action flicks that, while certainly flawed, at least had some brains behind them. This one is more like a comatose victim that you look at and simply feel bad for.

From Paris with Love receives 1/5