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.
The revenge thriller Colombiana directed by Olivier Megaton stars Zoe Saldana as a woman who after witnessing her parents’ murder at the hands of ruthless narco-thugs grows up to become a professional assassin. The film which was written by Luc Besson and Robert Mark Kamen could very well serve as a companion piece or perhaps quasi-sequel to Besson’s 1994 classic The Professional. Whereas in that film Natalie Portman’s orphaned Mathilda is rebuked when she expresses her desire to become a “cleaner ” Saldana’s character Cataleya sees her trained-assassin dreams lovingly nurtured by her uncle Emilio (Cliff Curtis) a low-level crime boss in Chicago. Positive mentorship is so important.
She shows early promise. A first-act sequence in which Colombiana’s tone is cast sees young Cataleya (Amandla Stenberg) approached by the gunmen who’ve just finished executing her mother and father. Traumatized but composed she listens patiently as the oily lead goon played by Jordi Molla presses for information he knows she’s hiding. Just as the girl seems poised to comply she pulls out a giant knife pins the man’s hand to the table swears revenge and leaps out the nearest window. Her latent Bourne powers suddenly and inexplicably activated she leads her pursuers on a sprawling footchase through the streets of Bogota leaping from buildings sliding beneath barriers showing flashes of parkour before finally escaping to the sewers. The sequence is a microcosm for the film as a whole: slathered with action thin on plot utterly implausible.
Indeed Colombiana might be easily dismissed as another derivative and forgettable action film if it weren’t for the agile and focused Saldana grimly determined to wrest every ounce of character possible from the film’s perilously thin material. When we first meet her as the adult Cataleya she is already an accomplished assassin with dozens of kills under her belt. In between jobs she keeps a booty-call (Michael Vartan) on standby to fulfill her intimacy needs. He yearns for a deeper connection but she’s stubbornly closed-off only occasionally betraying glimpses of the emotional torment within. As essentially the inverse of the standard male assassin/ female love interest dynamic it stretches the limits of believability which is to say it’s entirely consistent with the rest of the film.
Colombiana’s plot such as it is turns on the most preposterous of coincidences and appears aimless for much of its second act. Cataleya takes out various high-level targets in sequences that are often thrilling in their complexity but their relationship to the main storyline – Cataleya exacting revenge against her parents’ killers – is unclear. Deprived of details Megaton expects us to subsist on action alone but it’s not enough to fill the void left by the absence of story. When Cataleya does eventually get down to the business of revenge it comes far too swiftly to provide any real satisfaction.
You can’t blame Ritchie for returning to what he does best after almost committing career suicide remaking Swept Away with his missus Madonna. And as it begins Revolver seems very much like a crime caper in the manner of Ritchie’s Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch. Con man Jake Green (Ritchie regular Jason Statham) walks out of prison vowing to exact revenge upon the mobster responsible for putting him behind bars: Macha (Ray Liotta). Jake embarrasses Macha at the roulette table but before he can enjoy his spoils he’s diagnosed with an incurable disease that will kill him in three days. Help comes from an unexpected source: Two loan sharks (Andre Benjamin and Vincent Pastore) offer to keep Jake alive—but only if he gives them all his ill-gotten gains and does their every bidding. That includes stealing drugs and money from an increasing paranoid Macha. Jake thinks he’s being hustled. But he isn’t. We are. It’s at this point that Revolver sadly goes off on its philosophical and psychological tangents. Ritchie not only reveals that Jake possesses a mathematical formula to pulling off the ultimate con but he introduces an unseen boss of bosses whose presence hangs heavy over the proceedings. You cling to the faint hope that Ritchie’s doing his own spin on The Usual Suspects but as time crawls by it’s evident he’s trying to wreck his comeback bid by misguidedly playing amateur psychologist in much the same way David Fincher did with Fight Club. Five minutes into Revolver and you’re hoping Jake Green dies a swift death. And it’s not because Statham—who plays Jake like a more subdued version of Crank’s Chev Chelios minus the mid-Atlantic growl—is better suited to roles that require more brawl and less brains. It’s just that Statham never stops with his narration. He babbles on and on and on. Admittedly Statham’s narration allows us to make some sense of what’s going on in the murky and muddled Revolver. But Ritchie doesn’t use Statham judiciously. Everything that happens—big or small—must be addressed. And it wouldn’t be so bloody annoying if at least Ritchie made the narration colorful and engaging or if Statham delivered it without such weariness. At least our favorite Goodfella is around to break up the monotony. Just weeks after spoofing his volcanic screen image in Bee Movie Liotta threatens to erupt like Mount Vesuvius at the slightest provocation. He’s also something of a sight to behold when he’s holding court wearing nothing but bikini briefs and a tan that George Hamilton would kill for. The nattily Benjamin plays up the cooler-than-thou persona he’s perfected with OutKast which makes it easy to believe he always has the upper hand over everyone else in Revolver. On the other hand Pastore never makes his loan shark as smart as he’s supposed to be but at least he wisely tones down his Sopranos shtick. Crime once paid handsomely for Guy Ritchie. Not now though. The only true enemy is your own ego psychiatrists and psychologists put forth during the end credits. OK at least this explains a little why Revolver is the incoherent mess that is. But it also leads you to the inescapable conclusion that Ritchie was at war with himself when he plotted his gangland homecoming. It was inevitable that Ritchie’s ambitions would have gotten the best of him after his Swept Away public beating. Unfortunately Ritchie’s attempt to apply The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders to his fun flashy and frenetic brand of crime capers backfires in his face. Ritchie simply doesn’t have the same insights into the criminal mind that say The Sopranos creator David Chase does. And the endless references to chess theory numerology and Kabbalic traditions prove to be more confusing than enlightening. Perhaps all this would be tolerable if Revolver was half the adrenaline rush that was Snatch. But Ritchie peels away at the film’s psychological layers at a plodding pace. Consequently this isn’t the triumph of substance over style that Ritchie desperately wants it to be. And even its current form which is reportedly 10 minutes shorter than the two-year-old U.K. version Revolver is pointless and impenetrable. There are the occasional flashes of vintage Ritchie especially during a brilliantly executed shootout involving a renegade hitman and an animated sequence right out of Kill Bill. This though leaves you wondering what Revolver would have been had Ritchie not put a gun to his own head.