Friday, May 16, 2014

A Ghoul Versus Liam Neeson's Unknown

"This film probably should have stayed unknown..."

There has been a distinct lack of reviews this month and I apologize for that, but I've been working on a movie that took a lot longer to analyze than I thought it would. I really wanted to get it done before its fifteen anniversary, which is only a few days away.  In the meantime, here's a movie I've never heard of starring Liam Neeson and a bunch of other people I've never heard of, directed by a guy I've never heard of and written by two guys I've never heard of. Never has the title of a movie been more appropriate...

Hop into your taxi and let's start a chase scene with A Ghoul Versus Unknown!

We open on a plane landing flying through the clouds, as we're introduced to married couple Liam Neeson and his wife Blonde Lady. They land in Berlin, Germany where Neeson is a Langemore University professor giving a presentation on a biotechnology summit.  Upon landing, they board a taxi. We see the cabbie loading their luggage into the trunk of his cab but he misses a briefcase that gets left behind. On the cab ride, the couple makes plans to attend an art exhibit on Saturday.

They arrive at the place they're staying, the Hotel Albon. Blonde Lady goes into the hotel to check in as Neeson helps the bellhops unload his luggage. Upon realizing the briefcase is missing, he hails a taxi cab and takes off, not even bothering to tell his wife.  Oh, I guess he tries to call her from the cab but his phone has no service because this is a movie and cellphones only work when they feel like it, dammit!  On the way back to the airport, a car accident up ahead causes their taxi to go flying off a bridge into the river. The super competent cabbie, played by Diane Kruger, is able to save herself and Neeson from drowning. As the paramedics work on him, he has flashbacks of having sex with his wife as well as a brief flash of seeing a dark haired woman. Damn, player much there Neeson?

He wakes up in a hospital, learning he's been in a coma for four days. He asks where his wife is, but the doctor has no idea as Neeson had no ID on him so they've been unable to contact anyone on his behalf. Neeson remembers his name is Dr. Martin Harris, but that's about it. The doctor informs him he sustained massive head trauma in the accident, which is impairing his memory. Ah, convenience amnesia. Sweet, sweet convenience amnesia: driving the plot for movies for over fifty years and counting!

Later he looks at the possessions he had on him, a watch his wife gave him on their honeymoon and a small book about plants or something, I'm not really sure. On the back page he finds a series of numbers written down that make no sense to him, which, based off the history of mysterious numbers in fiction, will likely end up having a REALLY stupid explanation. Yes, insert a picture of the numbers from LOST here.

He happens to notice a report on the news about the biotechnology summit, which jogs his memory a bit. He leaves the hospital, naturally against the doctor's advice. Hospitals must be pretty damn nice in Germany, if you have no ID and borderline amnesia they'll just let you check yourself out!  Neeson arrives at the hotel, seeing his wife enter a ballroom and attempting to follow her but is stopped by security. He asks the head of security, Herr Strauss, to escort him to his wife and she'll sort everything out.

His wife, named Liz, does not recognize him at all to his shock. Things get even worse as she introduces her husband Dr. Martin Harris, who is obviously NOT Liam Neeson. Neeson starts causing a scene as he tries to figure out what the hell is going on, but I'll be honest here I couldn't focus on any of this. Liz's face... it- it doesn't move at all!  Liz is played by an actress named January Jones, whom I've never heard of before. I looked up her and she's a star on the TV series Mad Men, which I've never seen so I don't know anything about her, but... is there something wrong with her face? Like did she OD on botox injections? Her face is like a mask carved out of plastic, and every line she says is so tight-lipped it sounds like it was badly dubbed in post-production.

Neeson starts putting his hands on the Fake Harris, so security drags him out before this escalates. They take him to a secure room, where Neeson has them call his fellow professor Dr. Cole but they only get his voice mail. He wants them to call Professor Bressler next, whom he has only talked to on the phone but is sure he can help sort this out. Before this happens, one of the guards does an internet search on Neeson and finds his Langemore university page. On the page the picture is of the Fake Harris instead of Neeson's handsome mug.  Neeson tells Strauss about his accident and that he is confused, saying he needs to go back to the hospital. And they let him go, just like that! They even let him go without an escort. Damn, Germany sure is an understanding place! I want to move there, maybe they'd be okay with my occasional brain-eating dalliances.

They hail a cab for Neeson, but of course he has the cabbie stop and he gets out once he's out of sight of the hotel. He tries calling Cole again, this time leaving a somewhat rambling messaging on his voice mail. It's at this point Neeson notices a black SUV that is possibly tailing him, which the score helpfully points out to us by playing an ominous tone.  Neeson ducks into the subway system, where he's followed by a gun wielding guy with a really bad haircut. In a just world, this man would be hunting down his barber and not Neeson.

Neeson gets on a subway train to escape so we can get the “locking eyes with my pursuer as the train takes off” shot that you KNEW was coming the second a subway came into play. I must admit I don't like the filmmakers showing their cards this early into things, the SUV was fine because you didn't really know if it was following him or if he was just being paranoid. But immediately having a guy blatantly following Neeson let's us know that Neeson really isn't crazy and he's gotten himself into a wacky conspiracy mess. Dramatic tension, what's that?

Exiting the train, Neeson notices a taxi cab from the same company of the one he was riding in when it crashed. He goes to their headquarters to try to track down his driver, learning her name was Gina and she was an illegal immigrant who has now vanished. However one of the cabbies there, a friend of hers name Biko, tells Neeson where to find her.  She's working as a waitress at a diner, but won't talk to him because she sure as shit doesn't want to get dragged into another generic conspiracy-filled thriller. National Treasure was QUITE enough for her, thank you very much.

Neeson tries to meet with Bressler next, whom he finds talking to Fake Harris in his lab. Neeson tries to convince the professor that he's the real Harris, recounting the conversations they had on the phone. Fake Harris joins in, and we get a funny scene where they're talking in perfect sync as they recite a conversation word for word. Bressler looks at them both and goes “wow”.

The police arrive, Neeson imploring them to arrest Fake Harris. Fake Harris pulls out his wallet to show them his ID, Neeson seeing a picture of Fake Harris and Liz together in it. The shock of this causes Neeson to pass out, awaking back in the hospital.  The nurse there, Gretchen, gives him the information of a friend of hers named Jurgen who “finds people”. The doctor arrives, apologizing for ever letting Neeson leave the hospital. Neeson muses that he's going insane in a very well written and acted scene, however it's all ruined because the film has already clearly told us he's NOT crazy.

The doctor has Neeson take an MRI, Neeson having another sex flashback of Liz as his brain is scanned. There's also a longer shot of the dark haired woman, who is revealed to be Liz. Neeson awakens from his daze to see Bad Haircut in the room, who takes him out of the machine and ties him to a bed by one arm where he then injects a cloudy liquid into Neeson's IV bag. Gretchen enters and demands to know what the hell he's doing, but gets her neck broken for her trouble. Harsh, has a nurse EVER made it out of a thriller alive?

Haircut leaves the room so Neeson can have time to grab a pair of scissors out of Gretchen's lab coat. And with that, the first wheel has officially come off the Plot Contrivance Car. Where the hell did he go? What was he doing? Did he have to use the bathroom real quick? Haircut returns and then leaves again, although this time he's dragging Gretchen's body away so at least it makes sense this time.  This allows Neeson to cut himself free with the scissors and escape the hospital.  Wow, Haircut is a TERRIBLE assassin that obviously used to work for a James Bond villain. Why didn't he just break Neeson's neck like he did with Gretchen? Why go through such a crazy and elaborate method of death when he had a half-drugged Neeson securely tied up to a bed?

He tries calling Liz but Fake Harris answers. Neeson says nothing and hangs up. We can see Liz sitting on the bed, looking unhappily at her new husband. Or maybe she's looking at him elated. Or she could be suffering from a migraine, I really can't tell with her mannequin face.  Neeson meets with Jurgen, telling him Gretchen is dead. We learn Jurgen is ex-East German Secret Police, which is probably up there with Terminators and xenomorphs on the Scale of Badassery. He mentions Gretchen was kind to him when he was at the hospital, which is the second wheel that's now come out our Plot Contrivance Car.

Jurgen agrees to help Neeson, as he believes his story. He looks through Neeson's book, finding the numbers. Neeson tells him they're in his wife's handwriting and not his. Jurgen will make some calls to see what information he can gather, having Neeson go get Gina so he can question her.  Neeson does so, giving her his expensive watch so she'll help him. He also tells her he needs a place to crash and she reluctantly lets him stay with her, as it dawns on her there's no avoiding being in this movie any longer.

They walk back to her apartment, Neeson catching her up on the plot while she does the same. He can't understand why he'd go back to the airport right after leaving it. They also have immediate chemistry, so I wonder how soon the movie will reveal Liz is pure evil so Neeson can hook up with Gina.  Jurgen researches the summit, finding the two keynote speakers are Bressler and a Middle Eastern Prince named Shada, who is sponsoring the summit. He learns Shada has been the target of several failed assassination attempts.

Biko stops by Gina's to give him the keys to his cab, as she's still secretly working at the company. We learn she's saving up money to buy a passport to get the hell out of Germany, which I can't understand because this movie has made it seem like the greatest place in the world!  Neeson takes a shower while Haircut and his buddy Jones break into the apartment. Haircut wraps his arms around Gina's neck but doesn't snap her neck, instead he just chokes her out. What the hell? Did he only have enough strength in him to snap one neck and now the rest of the movie his arms are too tired?  Jones hears Neeson in the shower, going to take him out. He sees a window open, going out and running down an alley in pursuit. However we see Neeson has faked him out, hiding on the other side of the window and returning to the apartment.

Meanwhile Haircut is about to inject Gina with a syringe full of deathjuice when he hears a glass break in the next room. He pulls a gun out and advances towards the bathroom, Neeson attacking him with a pipe. Gina escapes in the fracas, finding Biko dead on the staircase, which is quite the accomplishment for him because despite being the only black guy in the movie, he didn't die first!  Biko looks like he died of a broken neck so I'm guessing Jones must have done it, as Haircut used up all his “Neck Snap Power-ups” on poor Gretchen. Haircut gets the drop on Neeson and starts strangling him, but Gina returns and injects him with the syringe to kill him. Bet Haircut wishes he'd used that gun now! And huge props to Gina, she is out-actionning Liam Neeson in his own movie!

They leave in Biko's taxi, Jones following them in the black SUV we saw earlier. They engage in one of the most clear and easy to track chase scenes I've ever seen in a movie, BY FAR the highlight of this film. Seriously, the director needs to give classes to the rest of Hollywood on how to film a damn car chase. The chase ends with Neeson flipping the car and Jones smashing into a barricade. By the time Jones get out he finds our heroes long gone.

Gina takes Neeson into a club to hide, the DJ playing New Order's epic “Blue Monday” to make this section of the movie even more awesome. Thanks to the power of one of the greatest songs ever, his brain is able to crack the mystery of the numbers. This triggers another flashback of dark haired Liz, who asks him “are you ready?”

They meet with Jurgen, Neeson revealing the words correspond to pages in his plant book and in turn words. The code is “Calochortus Albus and Umbellularia Californica”, which are two common plant species. He doesn't know what this means though. They've also bought some prepaid phones to keep in communication with each other, which is a nice touch as I wouldn't have bought Neeson's Blackberry still working after a swim in the river.

Jurgen asks about the relationship between Bressler and Shada, Neeson telling him they're very good friends. Bressler is trying to end world hunger with a new kind of crop and Shada is funding his work. Jurgen has learned the prince's progressive views have made him many enemies in the Middle East, speculating whoever is behind this is impersonating Neeson so they can get close to Shada to kill him.

As it's now Saturday, Neeson decides to go to the art exhibit where Liz is going to be, the Fake Harris will be off meeting with Bressler. Gina thinks this is a terrible idea, as she so obviously has feelings for Neeson now based off... uh, getting her best friend killed and her apartment trashed? Involving her in a high stakes thriller with a lot of guys who want to kill her?

Gina is staked outside the hotel where Fake Harris and Bressler are meeting, and will call Neeson when Fake Harris leaves. Neeson follows Liz inside the art gallery, while Fake Harris's meeting with Bressler is apparently only a few minutes because he leaves almost immediately. It was probably a lot longer, but the editing is kind of confusing here. Gina tries calling Neeson to warn him, but his new phone ain't havin' it.

Neeson is about to talk to Liz when he sees Jones, stopping and hiding behind a picture. He gets a text from Gina, warning him about Fake Harris. HOT DAMN, Gina is smart in this movie! She's even found a way to defeat “Conveniently Not Working” cell phones!  Having evaded Jones again, Neeson confronts Liz. I don't mean to be insensitive here, but does January Jones have some kind of speech impediment or birth defect that makes her talk funny? Her acting is HORRIBLE, she reads every line like she's in a 1996 Full Motion Video computer game. Hell, the actors in the first Resident Evil video game were better than this!

Outside, Fake Harris and Gina arrive. I am so confused right now, was the hotel like right next door to the art museum? There is too much bad going on, my brain wants to explode! Liz tells Neeson that he was going back for his briefcase and I'm not even going to question how the hell she knew this because HER ACTING IS SO ATROCIOUS! Prophecy 3 Midriff Girl, hand in your crown NOW!

Liz tells him to find the briefcase at the airport and that she'll meet him there. She kisses him, which Gina arrives JUST IN TIME to see and gets quite upset at. Called it! Liz tells Neeson she loves him and leaves. Neeson and Gina leave the building, Neeson seeing Fake Harris and Jones angrily confront Liz about where she's been.

So what do YOU think is going on here? That scene makes it seem obvious Fake Harris and Jones are forcing Liz to work with them, but that could just be a red herring and Liz is behind the whole thing. I'm thinking it is a fakeout, and the worst kind as it exists solely to trick the audience because in-universe there's no reason for Fake Harris to get so angry at Liz if they're in cahoots. I'm thinking this has to be an impostor Liz, and the dark haired one Neeson keeps seeing is the real Liz. Let's see if I'm right.

Back at his apartment, Jurgen gets a call from Dr. Cole who is played by the one and only Frank Langella. Cole says he just arrived in Berlin for the last day of the summit, and is heading over to meet with Jurgen. Jurgen mulls this over, thinking it's all bullshit. We see him take a small packet out of his cupboard before Cole arrives.

Jurgen tells Cole that he knows he's really part of an elite assassination unit called Section 15. HOW he knows this exactly is never explained, so that's one more wheel coming off this thing. Cole wants all the information Jurgen has on Neeson, but Jurgen instead puts the packet in his tea and drinks it. It turns out to be cyanide and he dies before Cole can get any information out of him. The Section 15 reveal is just too out there for a movie like this, especially when there was no set up or information WHATSOEVER on it.

At the airport, Neeson is at the lost luggage counter trying to get his briefcase. The attendant won't let him have it since he has no ID, so he tells her to open it and it'll prove everything. He just happens to remember the combination, as his scene specific amnesia goes away for this one. Well, that sure was nice of it!  Inside is his passport with his photo on it, so the attendant gives him the briefcase. He also finds the original version of the photo of him and Liz. Gina wants to go, but he's going to stay there like Liz told him too. Gina goes to leave, heartbroken by all this for some reason. Yeah Neeson is handsome, but you don't know him at all girl! If anything he should be making puppy dog eyes at YOU because you've saved his life two times now!

Neeson gives her a ton of money that was in his briefcase, so she gives him his watch back. She leaves as Cole arrives. Outside she sees Cole and Jones abduct Neeson and throw him into a black van, so she jacks a taxi cab and takes off in pursuit. It's at this point I want to remind you that the Surgeon General kindly advises you not to mess with Diane Kruger.  Cole takes Neeson to the top of a parking ramp, and now it's time for our Grand Reveal. Liam Neeson is the top assassin for Section 15, and created the whole identity of Martin Harris just so he could gain access to the summit. Liz is not his wife, but was rather his partner for the mission. Fake Harris is also a Section 15 agent, and was the backup agent in case something happened to Neeson.

Umm.... hmm. One little question here: WHY DIDN'T THEY HELP NEESON?!? Like the second they realized Neeson had amnesia why didn't they just bring him in and explain what was going on? Why try to kill him over and over again and risk exposing themselves, as well as the lives of their agents, when a simple explanation probably would have solved everything? Or even if they're worried he might try to stop him, just capture him until Shada is dead and then try to sort it out. Cole even says something to the effect of Neeson was like a son to him, he's that ready to throw Neeson under the bus when he's done nothing wrong besides get in a car accident?

Thank the Gods Gina arrives to disperse this idiotic plot twist by smashing her taxi into Jones and the van, which knocks the van off the edge of the ramp and down the ground where it explodes and kills Cole who was inside. GOOD GOD! Diane Kruger has the highest kill count in the whole damn movie!

Luckily, the suitcase wasn't in the van when Gina knocked it off the ledge. Neeson finds a hidden compartment in it, which is full of fake passports for him and Liz, including one of her with dark hair. Well, I was totally wrong about their being twins. I guess the universe couldn't contain THAT MUCH bad acting.  This triggers the full flashback of Liz with dark hair, as they were in the Hotel Albon three months ago and when she asked if he was ready it was for him to plant bombs in the suite where Shada is now staying.

Neeson realizes the bomb is meant to kill Shada that night, he and Gina racing to save him. Why don't they just call in a bomb threat to evacuate the hotel? I know that doesn't make for a more exciting ticking clock movie, but come on... they have NO idea when the bomb is going to go off. What if it explodes on the way there? A bomb threat would have prevented- ehh, this movie stopped using logic a long time ago I'm afraid.

Shada and Bressler arrive for the pre-summit cocktail party, Fake Harris and Liz already in attendance. Liz takes a laptop case Bressler is carrying, hanging it on a coat rack despite his protests he'd rather carry it. She secretly plants a device in the bag that allows her to copy the hard drive of the laptop, the passwords for the laptop are the names of the plants from Neeson's book.  There's our fourth tire, R.I.P. Car of Plot Contrivances. HOW THE BLOODY HELL DID SECTION 15 KNOW BRESSLER'S PASSWORDS?!? There is no way he would have told Harris his passwords when they talked over the phone, this is such a gaping plothole it's causing the movie to collapse into upon itself!

After copying the hard drive files, Liz sets the bomb with the timer set to go off in five minutes. Below at the entrance security stops Neeson and Gina entering, as they actually remember Neeson from last time. He convinces Strauss there's a bomb in the building, Strauss sounding the evacuation alarm.

Hearing this, Liz instructs Fake Harris to kill Shada who was spirited away by his security force. She is going to defuse the bomb, since she doesn't want to be tied to it because they have her face on camera from her visit three months ago. Once again, I'm not questioning the logic of any of this because HER ACTING IS GODAWFULER THAN GODAWFUL. I wonder if the director is holding cue cards for her right off camera, with all the words spelled out phonetically.

Neeson's scene specific amnesia goes into recession as he realizes this whole thing was about stealing the information from Bressler's hard drive and the plot to kill Shada was just a cover. If the information about Bressler's new crops were to fall into the wrong hands it could be sold for billions.  It is amazing to watch a movie fall apart THIS hard. I almost feel like we're watching a different movie at this point. Chalk this up to another insanely convoluted and complex Hollywood heist plan that could have easily been averted if anyone took two seconds to use some common sense.

Section 15 went through ALL of this bullshit just to get some files they already had the passwords for? They really couldn't have thought of a simpler way to go about doing this besides forging a lifetime of credentials and memories for a scientist, doing the research necessary for him to able to converse with Bressler, and setting up a complicated bomb plot to take out the prince of an entire country?

Fake Harris is about to shank Bressler when Neeson jumps him. Up above, Liz displays how effective all her years of super spy training was as she clumsily fails to turn off the bomb and gets her ass blown up. Yeah, that's a real shame there. The explosion rocks the hotel, causing part of the ceiling to collapse and hit Neeson in the head. This... restores his memory and oh my God this is just hilarious at this point. If aliens or ninja turtles or talking ponies show up right now I wouldn't be surprised one bit.

Neeson murders the hell out of Fake Harris with a shard of glass just in time for Gina to arrive. They almost play it like he's going to kill her now that he's a bad ass assassin again, but it's just a brief fakeout and they end up leaving arm in arm.  Later at a train station they watch a story about Bressler and Shada unveiling the new crop to the world. Neeson gives a Gina a passport with her new identity, Claudia Marie Taylor that complements his new identity of Henry Taylor. They shake hands and introduce themselves as they board a train to...?

Cue the credits.

An open letter to Hollywood: STOP REMAKING TOTAL RECALL! It's getting old. A man working for an evil agency gets amnesia and ends up trying to stop said agency's master plan. They even managed to include the evil blonde wife and visions of a dark haired woman in this one.

Right off the bat, I begrudgingly have to give the movie credit for not having Neeson and Gina have sex or even kiss, so it dodged that particular cliché. The movie kept me interested the entire time, so that's always a huge plus. Diane Kruger was freaking AWESOME in this movie, she was constantly smart and bad ass as all hell. You know you're doing something right when you've killed more people than Liam Neeson in a thriller!  Neeson was good as usual, though he did feel a tad on autopilot on this one.

The rest though... damn. The story goes from interesting to stupid to “they HAVE to be kidding” in record time thanks to some massive bouts of amazing coincidences and plotholes the size of the Milky Way galaxy. Then there's January Jones... she's not in the movie that much but every scene she's in is like watching a YouTube video of some horrible accident. You feel bad for watching it but you can't stop. I've been curious about Mad Men for a couple of years now, but if she's a star in it then count me out. I compared her to Prophecy 3 Midriff Girl for terrible acting, but that was just some shitty direct to video movie. This is a multimillion dollar Hollywood blockbuster with arguably the biggest star in the world, and that's the best she could perform? Wow.

You know what's scary about this? If they were able to make a Taken 2, they could SO make an Unknown 2 as well. This reminded me a lot of Inception in this aspect, the Big Bad is still out there! There had to be more to Section 15 than just Cole, not to mention whoever hired them to steal Bressler's data in the first place. If you see a sequel announced soon, do not be surprised.