Tuesday, April 21, 2009


"Spare the Rod and Spoil the Child"

Writers Luc Besson (Leon the Professional, La Femme Nikita, The Fifth Element) and Robert Mark Kamen ("The Karate Kid" movies, Lethal Weapon 3, the "Transporter" movies) have the formula down:

Half-hour of Set-up
Quick criminal act (under five minutes) with Hero-Vow
3/4 hour or so of Investigation with Random Acts of Carnage
10 minute Final Battle
5 minute Resolution

Stir lightly over a medium heat with 4 cups of adrenaline and a teaspooon of sugar.

Your basic fomulaic action movie.
Besson doesn't even need to direct anymore (He's off trying to conquer the kid-movie market with his "Arthur" films—three of them in the works.)
His stylized action sequences (dubbed by fussy French critics as "Cinéma du look") with slo-mo shots and "Billy Quan" angles have been replaced with zippy-quick sequences with an average shot length of half a second that the second unit can do, with picked-up insert shots of the star later on (there merely has to be a suggestion of the actor in these sequences, which are mostly demolition-derby car chases and on-the-run fire-fights with legions of stunt-men). For this film, "Transporter" cinematographer Pierre Morel directs, but it could be anybody in the production pipeline.

The thread that ties this all together is Ex-CIA merc' Bryan Mills (
Liam Neeson, subbing for Harrison Ford) and his love for his 17 year-old daughter Kim (Maggie Grace from "Lost"). His CIA years doing wet-work ("I was a preventer, not a spy") devastated his family, and now he's making up for lost time by "being there" for his daughter. But old habits die hard. He's called "Mr. Attention-To-Detail:" he meticulously wraps birthday presents, he checks the exits of every room he walks into, he can hot-wire a car (or an informant), and can find the soft tissue on anybody—he favors neck punches, but will go for the kidneys if he wants you to talk.

Against his better judgement, he caves into the tender lip-curling and snarling of his ex-wife (Famke Janssen) and lets his under-age daughter fly to Paris with a friend where (within minutes) she is kidnapped and thrown into a white-slavery ring. Mills (who has provided an international cell-phone with a speed-dial to him), hears the whole thing go down, and with the financial aid of Kim's step-dad (Xander Berkeley, who you can't hate because he took the nuke-plane down in "24" ), and his old contacts in the CIA and the French police, goes to Paris where he proceeds to (as his French contact discretely says) "make a mess." That includes shooting the guy's wife ("It's just a flesh-wound") to get information out of him. And after she made dinner for him and all. Talk about practicing tough love!

One of his CIA buddies tells him he has a ninety-six hour window to find his daughter (In Germany the film is called "96 Hours"), and dang, if that's not precisely correct, ending with a shoot-out in tight quarters on a floating pleasure-boat for a
Nero-like sheikh heading down the river Seine. Brat-atat-Bang-Bang and you're out. Feel-Good coda. Credits. Head for the Exits. The Movie dissolves from your mind.

Liam Neeson's presence and the substitution of sentiment instead of mission, are the only things that distinguish it, but other than that...pfft!

There's a sequel in the works, to which the only logical reponse is: "Why?"

Because this cast-off from France made in 2007 and released in the U.S. a year later was No. 1 at the box office for one weekend, that's why.

"Taken" is charitably a cable-watcher.

I went to see this at "The Big Picture" in Redmond, a fine example of "Cinema du Look" exemplifying style over substance where they sit you in very plush comfy chairs and you have the choice to order alcoholic libations, which, frankly, makes "Taken" a better film than it is. I had a Mac and Jac's, but I'd suggest something stronger for this one: something mind-numbing.

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