Take Liam Neeson's family members once shame on you. Take Liam Neeson's family members twice shame on him (but you'll still end up in a world of hurt).
Taken 2 sequel to the 2008 sleeper hit doesn't worry too much about improbability in devising a way to bring Bryan Mills (Neeson) back into the action. In the first film Mills punched and shot his way through Paris in order to retrieve his kidnapped daughter Kim (Maggie Grace). The followup jumps ahead two years Kim still on edge from the experience and Mills just hoping to move past it all. To wash away bad memories Kim and Mill's ex-wife Lenore (Famke Janssen) join the badass-for-hire on a work trip to Istanbul where everyone can finally relax. That is until someone gets… taken.
In Taken 2 director Olivier Megaton (Transporter 3 Colombiana) sticks to the formula that helped transform Neeson into an aged action star laying out obvious hurdles for his MacGuyver-esque hero and letting fast-paced editing and Mills' fists do the heavy lifting. There's an added layer of character that feels like a tease: Mills and Kim are trying to act like a normal father/daughter — handed the horrific experience of learning to drive as their through-line conflict — and Megaton finds humorous ways to touch upon the struggle. In one sequence Kim drives a stolen taxi cab away from gun-toting pursuers as Mills dictates directions from the passenger side. The action movie equivalent of "10 and 2!" is shouted and all hell breaks loose in the moment of familial genius. But that's about it for Taken 2's innovation. More of the same is the goal here and the film delivers.
The only issue with straight up repeating Mills antics' from the first movie is that his new adversaries — relatives of the people he previously offed — are old and boring and easily defeated. Seeing schlubby Neeson slice dice and electrocute the private parts of men half his age was exciting. Seeing him do the same to senior citizens isn't. But Neeson is such a powerful onscreen force even Taken 2's slowest moments have a bit of a spark. He makes the nonsensical into pure Shakespeare; in hokey scenes where Mills pals around with his best buds Neeson drops lines that are laughable ("Oh can't we just talk about basketball!) — yet he owns them. We're chuckling with his awareness that Taken 2 is beyond silly.
From Paris With Love is a volatile hybrid half Hong Kong action flick half American spy thriller fused together in the Dr. Moreau-like laboratory of French filmmakers Luc Besson (The Fifth Element) and Pierre Morel (Taken). As a result of the violent process some parts emerge oddly distorted: Bruce Willis becomes John Travolta Matt Damon becomes Jonathan Rhys Meyers believability becomes an afterthought and plotting becomes irrelevant.
Made up like Ming the Merciless and channeling the hep-cat spirit of Vincent Vega Travolta stars as CIA Agent Charlie Wax a brusque trigger-happy bundle of Yankee hubris summoned to Paris to prevent a potential terrorist plot on a U.N. peace conference. Rhys Meyers plays James Reese an uptight entry-level operative tasked with ferrying Wax around the city to gather the intelligence needed to thwart the conspiracy.
Predictably the two agents quickly settle into the standard buddy cop relationship: Button-down rookie Reese is appalled by coke-snorting hooker-banging Wax’s unorthodox tactics which usually land them in the middle of one huge stunningly choreographed shootout or another; Wax in turn belittles his young sidekick’s naivety and stubborn adherence to protocol.
At times Travolta’s action-hero routine borders on embarrassing — like watching your grandmother try to rap — but his exaggerated bravado is not entirely without its charms. He’s by far the most enjoyable part of the movie skipping merrily through the bullet-strewn Parisian underground spewing politically incorrect aphorisms in between explosions reveling in his role as the obnoxious American. Virtually every line he delivers earns laughs — and often on purpose.
If only he had a more capable sparring partner than Rhys Meyers whose range From Paris With Love sadly reveals extends little beyond his petulant amorous act as young Henry VIII in Showtime’s The Tudors. As much as Travolta enlivens the action the unutterably bland Rhys Meyers deflates it — and he gets the lion’s share of the screen time unfortunately.
Director Morel who cut his teeth as a cinematographer on such kinetic action fare as The Transporter does some virtuoso work with the camera incorporating everyday locales into his exquisitely frenzied set pieces. Dinner at a nondescript Chinese restaurant ends in a massive gunfight; an intimate dinner party launches an extended chase; a routine brothel visit gives way to ... another massive gunfight.
If only he'd put as much care into his casting decisions. After each of From Paris With Love’s violent skirmishes when Reese questions why things went so suddenly — and disastrously — awry Wax angrily shouts “Don’t you get it yet?” to his hopelessly obtuse partner. At times I think Travolta is actually pleading with his fellow castmember to wake up get his act together and stop ruining the movie. It's a doomed effort.
After surviving the running jumping shooting and chasing from the first two Transporters Frank Martin (Statham) once again finds himself mixed up in mayhem. The latest “package” he is to deliver consists of Valentina (Natalya Rudakova) the kidnapped daughter of a powerful European politician (Jeroen Krabbe) who is being blackmailed by bad guys. Unless Frank delivers Valentina to those aforementioned bad guys he’ll go boom! See he’s been outfitted with a metal bracelet that will blow up if he strays too far from his beloved BMW. But as you might expect Frank is not one to take this sort of thing lying down and it’s not long before he’s turning the tables on his tormentors. What follows is the expected barrage of fisticuffs (choreographed by Corey Yuen) firepower and ferocity but all of it seems arbitrary this time as if the filmmakers are merely fulfilling a contractual obligation. The first Transporter was passable junk but the sequels have just been junk. Even fans may be turned off by the sheer overwhelming sense of familiarity. Statham is as buff and tough as ever but even he appears weary. Frank Martin is not a role with much depth or dimension which is patently obvious the third time around. Francois Berleand is also back as Inspector Tarconi by now Frank’s bosom buddy but always bringing up the rear. As the principal villain Robert Knepper scowls growls glowers and delivers the immortal line: “My name is not important.” Neither is the film he’s saying it in. Saving the worst for last is newcomer Rudakova making as inauspicious a screen debut as any actress in recent memory. With way too much eye shadow this freckle-faced beauty pouts purrs bats her eyelashes (all the better to emphasize the eye shadow) and gives her terrible role the performance it deserves. Krabbe who’s played his fair share of heavies picks up an easy check for basically showing up. There’s only so much former graffiti artist-turned-filmmaker Olivier Megaton brings to the party -- and it’s not a lot. After the first two films no one’s likely to tamper with the formula and Megaton doesn’t even try. The only surprising thing about the film – and it’s a mild one to be sure – is that it received a PG-13 rating given the incessant violence. Given the abundance of CGI visual effects on display here it’s entirely possible that the bloodier bits were digitally erased. Undoubtedly an unrated “director’s cut” DVD will soon be lurking on video shelves which is where this Thanksgiving turkey belongs.
Oscar-winning screenwriter Akiva Goldsman adapts Brown’s bestselling page-turner to the best of his ability adding a few variations of his own but following the general plot of the novel. Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks) a professor of iconography and religious art becomes embroiled in a mystery when the highly respected Louvre curator in Paris is found murdered. Before he died he was able to leave Langdon and cryptologist Sophie Neveu (Audrey Tautou) the curator’s granddaughter clues through Da Vinci’s works which eventually lead them on a quest for the Holy Grail itself. Along for the ride is historian Leigh Teabing (Ian McKellen) a Paris detective (Jean Reno) and an albino monk (Paul Bettany) intent on stopping them. But here’s the kicker: one of Da Vinci’s theories is that Mary Magdalene and Jesus Christ were married and had a child thus creating a “sang real” or “royal bloodline” that must be protected destroyed or exposed--depending on which side of the fence you’re on. Ah the stuff great stories are made of. Upon hearing the casting of Da Vinci many of the book’s avid fans rejoiced--it is indeed a stellar line up. But it is probably one of the least compelling performances star Hanks has ever turned in. It’s not his fault really; Langdon is equally as stiff in the book. Same sort of goes for the Sophie character which is a shame for the lovely Tautou (Amelie) who isn’t able to fully utilize her incredibly expressive face here. Both actors could have been more animated but they are really the conduits for the more colorful supporting characters surrounding them. Bettany (Wimbledon) does an admirable job as the baddie a self-flagellating zealot intent on following orders even if the amiable actor is a bit ill-suited as a villain. But it’s McKellen who steals the show as the acerbic but jovial Teabing full of conspiracy theories and revelations about the true meaning of the Grail. The veteran thesp has a lot of information to pass on in the film but does so in a very engaging way. When he finally exits so does the film’s energy. Therein lies the main problem with The Da Vinci Code: Keeping up the momentum. The novel is chockfull of exposition--pages and pages of historical information along with passages about the characters’ pasts. It’s great to read but to watch it unfold on screen could have been an excruciatingly boring experience. Goldsman and Howard have both admitted having trouble adapting the material trying to find ways to make the story more cinematic. But the Oscar-winning Howard has proven himself to be a highly capable director and gives Da Vinci Code the necessary touches interweaving visual re-creations within the narration. Salvatore Totino's glistening cinematography also accentuates the lush sets while Hans Zimmer's score pumps it up. Still at two and a half hours Da Vinci Code drags. It has to--you’ve got all the book’s theories to get out. It's true Brown’s imaginative opus for obvious reasons rocked a few boats when it was first published but it sold millions. It stands to reason the movie will do the same at the box office.