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.
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.
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.