Taken 3

 Taken_3_33464

 

DIR: Olivier Megaton  WRI: Luc Besson, Robert Mark Kamen  PRO: Luc Besson  DOP: Eric Kress  Ed: Audrey Simonaud, Nicolas Trembasiewicz  Cast: Liam Neeson, Forest Whitaker, Famke Janssen, Maggie Grace, Dougray Scott, Sam Spruell, Leland Orser

 

The third and allegedly final instalment of the Luc Besson-masterminded Taken series eschews the European settings of its predecessors for Californian locations, but in all other respects feels painfully rote. Sharing with prior instalments an inexplicable fascination for the family dynamics of rugged hero Bryan Mills (Liam Neeson) and his kin, Taken 3 tarries with sub-TV soap opera for close to half an hour before finally wheezing into action.

 

In narrative terms, the film replaces the straightforward seek-and-destroy storylines of its predecessors with a convoluted “wrong man” plot lifted straight from The Fugitive (1993). On this occasion, the Tommy Lee Jones part is taken by Forest Whitaker, turning in another dreadful performance that must surely put him neck-and-neck with Renée Zellwegger for the bleakest post-Oscar career. Meanwhile, the “surprise” villain will surprise nobody, although his identity will not be revealed here.

 

It’s not a spoiler, however, to confirm that this mystery villain is a man, because as per usual, the only women on screen are Neeson’s daughter, Kim (Maggie Grace), and ex-wife Lenore (Famke Janssen). Janssen, typecast as a frosty shrew in the first Taken film, seems ill-at-ease with her now-mellowed character, and one can’t help but search her frozen features for a flicker of relief when she exits the action feet-first early on. The Taken films have always had an Oedipal streak a mile wide, and in that respect the latest instalment does not disappoint – giving Neeson and Grace a handful of excruciating father-daughter scenes, including one in a toilet cubicle that concludes with Kim creating a diversion for her escaping father by pretending to urinate. Grace is a likable genre performer, but at 31 she seems uncomfortable playing a college student who uses her mother’s garments as security blankets.

 

Age, of course, is but a number in a Taken film, and those wondering how Neeson’s action hero is holding up at 62 will be pleased to know that he still does youthful things like jumping over police cars and listening to The XX. Neeson has always walked a fine line between the stoic and the stolid, and part of the limited appeal of the Taken series has been the oddness of seeing him in the kind of role Arnold Schwarzenegger might have passed on in 1988. Alas, oddness – as well as action – is in short supply here. A fight scene in which an antagonist brandishes a machine gun while wearing only a bathrobe and his underpants calls to mind the lunatic quality of Besson’s own films, but it’s an all-too-brief flash of conscious absurdity. Elsewhere, the film feels perilously low on ideas – climaxing with an airport set-piece that seems laughably puny compared to a similar scene in Casino Royale (2006). Neeson, and most of the rest of the cast, look like they’d rather be punching the clock.

David Turpin

12A (See IFCO for details)
108 minutes.
Taken 3
is released 9th January 2015.

Taken 3   – Official Website

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Cinema Review:Taken 2

DIR: Olivier Megaton • WRI: Luc Besson, Robert Mark Kamen PRO: Luc Besson • DOP: Romain Lacourbas • ED: Camille Delamarre, Vincent Tabaillon • DES: Sébastien Inizan • Cast: Liam Neeson, Famke Janssen, Maggie Grace

Did anyone really want Taken 2?!

Back in 2008, when Liam Neeson loomed, intimidated and murder-killed his way through the heart of Paris to find his daughter, I left the theatre oddly impressed, assuredly thrilled and ultimately satisfied.

Daughter Kidnapped. Dad gets on the case. Albanian jerks soil themselves, die. Daughter rescued.

That’s Taken; a divisive if simple, singular tale.

So I’m lost as to why Team Besson deemed it prudent to grant the world further insight into the homicidal exploits of John Taken!* Regardless, affairs are in a sad state when 60 year old Liam Neeson, big though he is, gets lumped with this needless sequel, helmed by the man responsible for Transporter 3!

* This should have been his name from the start, folks!

Giving the performance of his life, Neeson/WolfPuncher enjoyed a legitimate career highlight with January’s The Grey. So we all know the man can act. Unfortunately he’s saddled with 90 straight minutes of buffoonish dialogue and a ridiculous American twang.  Yes, he’s been naturalised as a US Citizen, but that Northern accent isn’t going anywhere in a hurry.

While Taken just about straddled the fine line between the plausible and the openly ridiculous, its sequel never quite knows which route to take, hedging every bet. For every instance of Neeson using his brain, doing something crafty, like estimating his location while blindfolded, listening for environmental markers, stuffing a miniature phone in his sock, we get Maggie Grace (who I have yet to be impressed with, in any role) detonating grenades in the streets of Budapest!

Themes of responsibility, consequence and justice are similarly muddied. The chief villain, an Albanian crime boss wronged by John Taken four years previously, decides to teach him a lesson about restraint by butchering him, his family and anyone else unfortunate enough to be in the camera’s frame.

There is no moralising here. There is no poignant lesson to be learned. Poorly choreographed, choppily edited violence begets poorly choreographed, choppily edited violence. And is resolved by same.

Whenever the cast aren’t spewing forth tired clichés and undercooked dialogue, Taken 2 slaps its audience in the face with some of the most poorly presented action this side of The Expendables 2. There is a (as in one!) car chase, a baton fight and a shoot-out. All of which should make you yearn for more talking.

And as for the practical joke of a final showdown, in which 6’ 4” John Taken kung-fus a short, pudgy Albanian rather than just, I don’t know, stepping on him?! Yikes. Neeson may be getting on in years, and he’s not exactly Jackie Chan, but this mismatch of sizes felt openly insulting to the hard-working lead.

Mercifully, Taken 2 isn’t a terribly lengthy endeavour. It has the manners to let you run for the exits inside of 90 minutes. And I say it’s fair we let poor Liam Neeson do the same. It’s hard to shake the impression he’s been bullied into this position, the aging action star, the badass granddad.

He made Taken 2. It was a disaster. Now, can we please let him go back to making more projects like The Grey now?

Neeson even admits, in this very feature, how he is ‘so tired of it all!’

Well, you and me both, Mr Taken!

Jack McGlynn

Rated 12A (see IFCO website for details)
9omins

Taken 2 is released on 5th October 2012

Taken 2 –  Official Website

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VpaT8NzkLgE

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The Wackness

The Wackness
The Wackness

DIR/WRI: Jonathan Levine • PRO: Keith Calder, Felipe Marino, Joe Neurauter, Brian Udovich • DOP: Petra Korner • ED: Josh Noyes • DES: Annie Spitz • CAST: Ben Kingsley, Famke Janssen, Josh Peck, Olivia Thirlby, Mary-Kate Olsen

If you were born in the late ’70s you will probably find The Wackness brimming with nostalgic bits of your teenage years in the form of mid ’90s cultural iconography. But if you weren’t into Hip Hop, didn’t become a chronic dope smoker or come from a tragically dysfunctional family, you will probably find the subject matter difficult to relate to.

Set during the summer of 1994, The Wackness offers up a nostalgic backdrop for an atypical coming-of-age tale. Luke (Josh Peck), a recent high school graduate and pot-peddler, trades weed for session time with psychiatrist Dr. Jeffery Squires, played by a frazzled Ben Kingsley. Further complicating the unlikely relationship, Luke falls in love with the unconventional doctor’s stepdaughter while Jeffery’s lifeless marriage finally crumbles. Additional familiar strife on Luke’s side causes these characters to work together in an effort to save the family home by selling as much smoke as possible – hence the film’s tagline, ‘Sometimes it’s right to do the wrong things’. It all sounds so quirky and fun, but the melancholy sepia-filtered look of the film, combined with serious narrative issues of identity, legality, morality, and plain old-fashioned coming-of-age awkwardness gives this film a dark sadness.

While stoner-cinema has been popular for some time, from the classic Cheech and Chong to the more recent Dude Where’s My Car?, and of course Harold and Kumar doing whatever it is that they do, The Wackness is not a slapstick adventure of hazy stoner tomfoolery. Luke is a drug dealer, undoubtedly a title that comes with a slew of negative character presumptions. What is a disarming about Luke, however, is that he doesn’t exactly fit into any of these negative stereotypes. He is sensitive, thoughtful and sad – personality traits that perhaps even compliment a pacifistic drug like marijuana. But The Wackness takes this connection too far. Nearly every scene involves dope-smoking. The point is clear – the world is not a fairy tale, but the constant drug use moves away from being an artful tone-setter and becomes gratuitously repetitive.

Despite this criticism, The Wackness is a smart film with a pessimistic flatness that encourages the viewer to sink into the muted drama.That being said, the experience is not without a bit of fun with an awkward, cringe-inducing sex scene and the ‘Where’s Wally’ excitement of noticing mid ’90s artefacts, like an original Nintendo and bus side advertisements for Forrest Gump, sprinkled throughout the film. Like the characters that populate the drama,The Wackness is both a glass half full and a glass half empty.

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