<p>Liam Neeson’s character solves a mid-life crisis and possibly his wife’s abduction in ‘Unknown’ </p>

Liam Neeson’s character solves a mid-life crisis and possibly his wife’s abduction in ‘Unknown’

German Engineering

Car chases and clunky machinations define Unknown

Forget Harley-Davidsons and 20-something girlfriends — the newest trend for male leads having their second mid-life crisis is action films. Two years ago, 50-something Liam Neeson starred in the surprisingly OK Taken, a high-body-count revenge flick that had him practicing his “combat roll and reload” sequences. His latest foray is Unknown, a good-enough-for-February film that doesn’t quite meet Taken’s not terribly lofty standards.

In Unknown, Neeson (Schindler’s List, Kinsey) plays scientist Dr. Martin Harris, who has just arrived in Berlin for an important conference. Accompanying him is his lovely wife Elizabeth, played by January Jones (Betty Francis on “Mad Men”), who was likely born after Dr. Harris completed his doctoral dissertation.

After arriving at their swanky hotel, Harris realizes his briefcase and passport were left at the airport. He quickly hails a cab, leaving his wife to check in. En route, a car accident sends Harris plunging into an icy river, where his own taxi driver Gina (Diane Kruger) saves his life. Harris suffers a head injury, his heart stops and, even worse, he loses his Blackberry. Although foggy after a four-day coma, he seems to remember who he is; however, things turn bizarro when he discovers that someone has seamlessly assumed his identity.

Before the halfway mark, Unknown feels like a twisty psychological thriller; after the halfway mark, it devolves into a geriatric version of The Bourne Identity in which the first action sequences are a little tardy to the party. Unknown is best during its early “huh?” moments, before screenwriters Oliver Butcher and Stephen Cornwell begin spoon-feeding viewers clues via fairly bad, exposition-laden dialog. For instance, after Neeson’s character reconnects with Gina, the Bosnian taxi driver that saved his life, a two-man hit squad ends up killing Gina’s friend. “I am sorry,” says Neeson, who has become so wooden that he has temporarily stopped using contractions. “I brought more trouble into your life. I’ll try to make up for it, I promise.” “I know,” says the Bosnian.

Unknown is a step in the right direction for untested director Jaume Collet-Serra, whose previous efforts include House of Wax (you know, Paris Hilton’s other movie). Screenwriters Butcher and Cornwell — who haven’t created anything of note in the past 15 years, if ever — are adequate matches for Collet-Serra’s questionable talents.

Even playing a paper-thin character with virtually no back-story, Neeson is likable; likewise, despite his age, he’s believable in his handful of jumbled, visually incoherent fight scenes that are unfortunately becoming the new gold standard for modern action scenes. To further tip the enormous imbalance between off-screen talent and on-screen talent, Frank Langella (Frost/Nixon) shows up late and demonstrates, in just a few seconds, why he’s too good for this movie.

A middle-of-the-road kind of flick, Unknown seems to specialize in small disappointments — both its characters and dialog are letdowns, and its plot has holes big enough to drive a Volkswagen Touareg through. A good re-write would’ve done wonders, but instead, Collett-Serra seems content to let his stars shine bright enough to obfuscate these shortcomings, which they very nearly do.

Grade: C-

posted at 11:47 pm
on Tuesday, February 22nd, 2011

COMMENTS

(We're testing Disqus commenting (finally!); please let us know if you have trouble.)

comments powered by Disqus

 

« Previous Page


Mainline It

I’m not going to take any chances by coming at this in clever fashion: Go see Dope. See it now. See it and reward filmmakers speaking truth and passionately reminding us that unique and original...

more »


Movieha! Your favorite movie podcast

Please sign up for our RSS feed HERE, download our podcasts and rave about us in the comments section of iTunes HERE, follow us on Twitter HERE, and become a fan of us on Facebook HERE! You can...

more »


Emotion Motion

I have questions. Many questions.

Inside Out plops us in the brainspace of an 11-year-old girl, Riley (Kaitlyn Dias), revealing her behaviors to be controlled by five primary emotions: Joy (Amy...

more »


Someone Call Chris Hansen

Since its release a few weeks ago, Tomorrowland has become surprisingly polarizing among film critics who can’t seem to decide if it’s overwhelming sense of optimism is endearing or obnoxious. At the...

more »


Hot Dino-on-Dino Action

Hand a kid two dinosaur toys. Said kid will not use them to contemplate evolutionary biology. Said kid will smash the two of them together, simulating an epic dino-smackdown while emitting a...

more »







Advanced Search