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.
Can a silly action movie be too silly? A ludicrous sci-fi flick be too ludicrous? Lockout is a cinematic stunt a motorcycle ride across a tightrope that teeters the line between bombastic fun and inane nonsensical lunacy. A collage of futuristic landscapes and big screen 1-vs-100 scenarios reputable French producer Luc Besson's (The Fifth Element Taken) "space jail" thriller tests your patience for stupidity and cookie cutter filmmaking. The movie does a good deal of winking but nine times out of ten it just has crud in its eye.
Guy Pearce stars as the one-liner-slinging Snow an alleged murderer sentenced to life in the orbital penitentiary MS One. Snow fails to convince Langral (Peter Stromare) head of the Secret Service that his recent running punching kicking car chasing escapades were anything more than a crazy man on the crazy run (when in fact we know it's all in an effort to protect and hand off a MacGuffin briefcase). Meanwhile the President's daughter Emilie (Maggie Grace) heads to MS One to get the scoop on the prison's nefarious psychological experiments only to find herself (thanks to an idiot secret serviceman) in the middle of an all-out inmate revolt. With a hostage situation on the Secret Service's hands there's only one person suitable for the infiltration hostage mission: the guy they just convicted as a murderer.
Forget logic — Snow's the best man for the job because Pearce's gravitas outdoes every tense dramatic moment every flashy action scene every CG spectacle in Lockout. He is the saving grace of the film crafting a character who deserves a Die Hard or Escape from New York instead of the limp half-baked vehicle that's more sizzle reel than narrative film. Grace holds her own with the fast-talking badass forming a rapport that blossoms in the film's calmer moments. But they're rare with writers/directors James Mather and Stephen St. Leger insisting on jumping from the dynamic pair to the caricatured villains (apparently MS One is a space jail comprised entirely of Scottish/Irish criminals) or the cliche-ridden Government goons manning a control room.
If Lockout approached its sci-fi and action with the same intimacy that made Besson's District B13 and Taken successful it may have found a footing. But the cat and mouse game exist in a world where plot is written for twists (the nameless "package" continually bears its ugly head in the escape story) and rules are made up on the spot. Anything can happen! — in a bad way. At one point Snow and Emily jump out of MS One into space and fall downward. Because there's gravity in space? A nitpick that speaks to the larger problem: Lockout never tries to make any sense — dramatically viscerally emotionally.
A dead body with a smashed-in face and cut-off hands is uncovered at a Montreal construction site. The local authorities are all over it but police inspector Hugo Leclair (Tcheky Karyo) thinks it might be bigger than just a random murder and decides to bring in his good friend Special Agent Illeana Scott (Angelina Jolie) an FBI profiler who relies on her intuition rather than conventional crime-solving techniques. She proves it by immediately lying in the victim's grave to get a "sense" of what happened to him. (Wow we've never seen that before.) The Montreal detectives on the case Paquette (Olivier Martinez) and Duval (Jean-Hugues Anglade) are skeptical of her ways especially Paquette who thinks she's just plain nuts (we're with ya Paquette) and resents her involvement. The investigative team catches a lucky break when witness James Costa (Ethan Hawke) pops up claiming he stumbled upon the killer mid-murder (but not in time to save the victim) and can identify him. With Costa's help Illeana gets a clearer picture of her "profile " discovering he is a chameleon-like serial killer who "life-jacks" his victims assuming their lives and identities. At first she's hot on his tracks but the usually detached Illeana is thrown for a loop when an unexpected attraction develops between her and James. She suddenly feels like she is losing her touch; and surrounded by what could be a bevy of potential suspects things get chillingly personal.
Jolie has done this before sort of in the 1999 The Bone Collector in which she played a homicide detective who works with a quadriplegic partner to catch a serial killer so inhabiting Agent Scott is not new territory for her. Neither is acting in the steamy love scene she gets to share with Hawke which as we all know is something Jolie can do well. What is surprising for a movie of this type however is the fact the uptight emotionless FBI profiler actually gets to have sex which brings out Scott's more human qualities. The ultra-smooth Hawke whom we haven't seen since his Oscar-nominated turn in the 2001 Training Day also does some intriguing things with his character who may or may not be the bad guy (see below). The rest of the cast however falls into conventional psycho thriller compartments--the good cop (Anglade) the bad cop (Martinez) the concerned confidante (Karyo) and the person who provides key information about the serial killer's background (his mother played by Gena Rowlands)--without shedding anything new on the proceedings.
If you've seen one big-budget psychological serial killer movie you've seen them all. You know that the one guy they want you to think is the killer really isn't. You know that the other more unlikely guy probably is. You know somehow the hero--a smart cop FBI agent etc.--will eventually find his or her life in mortal danger. And finally you know the killer rarely dies on the first attempt; he always comes back. What you hope is that at some point the filmmaker will throw a wrench in the works. Something you couldn't predict even if given all the clues. Taking Lives director D.J. Caruso tries his best to do this. Through his camerawork he sets up Illeana's hyper-sensitive skills of observation as she notices everything around her only to see those skills fail on her later--and aided by composer Phillip Glass' haunting musical score the film reaches the predictable high points fulfilling its thriller quota. Montreal also provides a change of pace from the usual grimy Big Apple or other such gritty American locales prominently feature in such films. But what keeps Taking Lives in the running is its curveball at the end. If you don't mind wading through the rest of the movie's obviousness the wait is worth it.