Thursday, September 18, 2014

A Ghoul Versus Liam Neeson's Taken

"I will find you, and I'll electrocute you, then I'll cut off your toes, then I'll inject Clorox into your arm, then I'll go after your family with a chainsaw, then maybe if I have the time I'll get around to killing you."

Tomorrow marks the release of the latest Liam Neeson thriller, A Walk Among The Tombstones which I SWEAR I thought was going to be Taken 3 when I first saw a trailer for it. The movie even has Neeson say something to the effect of “Your wife has been... TAKEN!” for crying out loud. But hey, it's Hollywood... milk what sells tickets until it's no longer profitable. Insert your own superhero movie genre joke here. At least with a Neeson film you're guaranteed SOME level of quality that you won't get in a Jason Statham or a, oh I don't know, let's go with a Jeremy Renner movie.

To celebrate this occasion, today we're going to go back to the movie that started it all: 2008's Taken. This came out of NOWHERE and dominated the box office, making nearly ten times its paltry $25 million dollar budget and transforming Neeson already lucrative career to heights not seen since John Travolta in Pulp Fiction. Let's just hope Neeson's career doesn't end with him dressing in drag and slow dancing with Christopher Walken. Actually, scratch that, that's EXACTLY what I hope happens.  Enough wishful thinking, I want to see Liam Neeson murder his way across Paris!  Let's get ready to walk the thin line between hero and psychopath as it's time for A Ghoul Versus Taken!

Our film opens as we meet our main character, Bryan Mills, who is ex-CIA agent played by Liam Neeson. Bryan was involved in VERY bloody work in his past, but has given it all up to be closer to his daughter, as he has missed a lot of her life due to his job. It has also cost him his marriage, as his wife is now married to seemingly the richest man in world.  We watch as Bryan gets ready for his daughter's upcoming 17th birthday by buying her a karaoke machine from an Indian Stereotype that probably would have been considered offensive back in 1983.

Bryan arrives at his daughter's birthday party, which her stepfather is throwing at his ridiculously luxurious mansion. We meet his ex-wife Lenore, played by the ever so lovely Famke Janssen, whose entire role in the movie is to be a total bitch to Bryan. It's obvious she is still very bitter at Bryan for putting his job over their family and will never forgive him, but she is written too over the top to be sympathetic at all.  Their daughter Kim is played by Maggie Grace, who was in her mid 20s at time of filming. To try to make up for fact she looks WAY too old to be 17, she plays her character by bouncing around nonstop like a child on speed. She still loves her father and is very appreciative of his gift despite her mother saying that she has outgrown wanting to be singer.

This touching moment is ruined by the arrival of her stepfather, who I'm pretty sure is the Most Interesting Man In The World. He presents Kim with a horse, which makes her bounce around in ecstasy as she quickly sets karaoke machine down and runs to ride it. He doesn't always upstage other men, but when he does he makes sure it's Liam Neeson. The Most Interesting Man In The World actually seems pretty nice as he makes the small talk with Bryan, but you can tell Bryan still wants to cave his skull in with a blunt object of some sort.

Later we see Bryan meeting up with three of his old CIA friends, as they have barbeque and discuss the good old days of slitting throats in name of Democracy. One of them, Sam, offers Bryan a spot doing security detail for a famous pop singer named Sheerah.  Bryan agrees, later meeting the singer and finding out she is not very nice. Shocking! However her tune changes after he saves her from knife wielding assassin that tries to kill her after concert. They really should have had Sheerah played by Taylor Swift or Katy Perry to REALLY make us believe someone would want to stab them.

Most appreciative towards Bryan saving her life, Sheerah gives him information to get Kim started in a singing career. One would think Bryan would want to discourage Kim after seeing the dark side to fame, but nah... it's all good. The next day Bryan meets with Kim for lunch, but Lenore is also there to his extreme displeasure. Kim wants to go to Paris with her best friend Amanda, but needs Bryan's signed permission since she is not 18. Even though Lenore has full custody of her, ahh... let's not get bogged down in these kind of details.

Bryan is not comfortable with this, saying he needs time to think about it. He later shows up at The Most Interesting Man In The World's palace, agreeing to sign document as long as Kim takes a phone with her and calls him daily. Lenore asks him wouldn't have it just been easier if he'd signed it first time, he fires back with it'd been easier if she'd talked to him about it beforehand. Burrrrrrrrrrrn!  He drives Kim to airport as tries to tell her safety tips but they go in one ear out and the other as she dismisses him for being overprotective. They have a very nice moment here that really drives home to Kim how much he loves her, Maggie Grace is actually a good actor when she's buckled up in a car and can't bounce around.

Kim and Amanda arrive in Paris, meeting a very nice young man named Peter. Amanda is a blonde ditz that must have been on her way to next Friday The 13th movie and took a wrong turn, winding up in this movie instead. It becomes very obvious Peter is trying to get them alone, Amanda all too happy to give him every vital bit of information about their stay. She does everything short of giving him a key to her apartment and a list of all her biggest fears. Peter's true intent is confirmed as he sees them off at their apartment, making a call on his phone about them.

Bryan calls Kim, who is on the other side of their massive apartment while Amanda is doing blonde things. As they talk, men suddenly burst into the room and grab Amanda. This is kind of strange continuity wise, as this happens literally minutes after Peter's phone call. Where the men following Peter entire time? Do they have a mobile kidnap van ready to go at all times?  Bryan urges Kim to keep her wits while he hooks his phone up to some recording equipment. He asks her if she talked to anyone, learning about Peter at the airport. He has her hide under a bed and shout out every detail she can about the kidnappers as they grab her (“beard, six foot tall, tattoo of moon and star on hand”). We hear the kidnapper pick up the phone, Bryan proceeding to give the very famous amd meme-worthy tag line from this film:

“I don't know who you are. I don't know what you want. If you are looking for a ransom, I can tell you, I don't have money. But what I do have are a very particular set of skills. Skills I've acquired over a very long career. Skills that make me a nightmare for people like you. If you let my daughter go now, that'll be the end of it. I will not look for you. I will not pursue you. But if you don't, I will look for you. I will find you... and I will kill you.”

BOOM! HEADSHOT! And with that Liam Neeson became THE go to bad ass for the Action Industry. The kidnapper simply replies “good luck” and hangs up. Bryan goes to The Most Interesting Man's house to tell him and Lenore that Kim has been kidnapped, on the way sending the phone recording to Sam to have him analyze it. The Most Interesting Man asks what they can do to help, Bryan having him charter a plane to Paris.

I know this is NOT that kind of movie, but why didn't Bryan call the authorities or at the least his CIA friends? Surely they could have helped out in some other way. Or why didn't he put The Most Interesting Man's trillions of dollars to a better use besides booking a flight? Hell, why didn't he bother to inform Amanda's parents about her kidnapping? Remember Amanda?  Sam calls back, revealing the kidnappers were Albanians led by a man named Marko Hoxha and their specialty is trafficking women. Bryan boards the plane, listening to the recording over and over again. Big mistake here as on the recording Kim now says “mustache” instead of “beard”. No one caught that in editing?

On that subject, Bryan arrives in Paris and searches Amanda's apartment. He finds some hair strands caught on a broken mirror, which is never mentioned or brought up in the entire movie. He also finds Kim's broken phone, taking the SD Card out of it. He is able to review pictures on it and finds an image of Peter. These kidnappers kind of suck.  Speaking of Peter, we find him at airport preying on another young blonde woman. Bryan jumps him and drags him into a nearby taxi cab. He tells cab driver to drive, but in a nice change of pace the cabbie jumps out to get the police. Bryan honestly could have planned whole thing better, beating up a man in front of a crowded airport is NOT the smoothest of plans.

One of Peter's associates drags Bryan out of the taxi but being an unnamed thug in a movie it doesn't go well for him as he gets his ass kicked. Bryan tries to chase down Peter but the creep gets flattened by a truck that doesn't even attempt to stop for him, opting to honk its horn a few times before going “fuck it”. Are we in Paris or New York?  Later Bryan meets up with an old friend and ex-field agent named Jean-Claude Pitrel, who now has a desk job as the Director of Internal Security. He's wary of Bryan's activities, but still tells him where to find the Albanians after warning him not to make a mess. That's not really Bryan's style, I'm guessing they weren't the closest of friends.

Bryan's search eventually takes him to a construction site that's been converted to a makeshift brothel. That's certainly... unique. He searches it, finding Kim's jacket in the possession of very drugged out girl. He takes her with him, which alerts the thugs guarding the site. This leads to a shoot out and a VERY exciting chase scene, one of the best I've seen in recent times.  They get away and set up in a motel, Bryan putting the girl on make shift medication to help even out the drugs in her system. She tells him Kim gave her the jacket, as well as where they were taken after being kidnapped. Bryan takes notes and then casually abandons her in the motel. Hope there was some money in those jacket pockets!

Bryan goes to the house she mentioned, finding the Albanians run their business through it. Impersonating Pitrel, he is able to talk his way inside. Through his cleverness, he learns Pitrel's agency is taking bribes from Albanians as well as the identity of Marko.  When Bryan reveals his true identity to Marko a huge fight erupts, Bryan effortlessly murdering his way through everyone. He is basically Superman at this point, as he knocks out everyone with a single punch.

After slaughtering the smugglers, he searches the rooms for Kim but only finds room after room of drugged up girls handcuffed to beds. Amanda is among them, dead from an overdose. He almost shows a moment of concern for her, but then remembers he has people to shoot in the face so leaves. He never helps any of the other girls or even bothers to call the police, which is a major dick move on his part. He's not exactly a sympathetic character at this point I can't help but notice.

My suspicions are confirmed with the next scene, which features some gratuitous torture! Yay. Bryan interrogates Marko by hooking him up to a generator and electrocuting him, learning Kim was sold to a man named Patrice Saint-Clair because they don't keep virgins. Without asking for ANY further information on Saint-Clair, Bryan knocks him out and calls the police to come get him. Ha hah, just kidding! He leaves the generator on and electrocutes him to death! You can tell Bryan means business because he doesn't even bother with a one liner.

The Bryan Mills “Psychopathic In Paris” Tour 2008 makes its next stop at Petril's house, where Petril comes home to his wife and children and discovers Bryan has joined them for dinner. Uh oh. Petril puts his children to bed, grabbing a gun he has hidden under the bathroom sink. I guess he knows Bryan better than I thought, although I probably would have gone for a rocket launcher instead of a wimpy pistol.

As they eat dinner, Bryan starts off nice and friendly until he's able to confirm Petril is one of the collaborators with the Albanians. Hmm, then that earlier scene where he told Bryan where to find the Albanians makes Petril look extremely stupid. If he wanted to keep getting bribes from them, it would have made more sense to give Bryan a false lead. Maybe he was afraid if he lied to Bryan he'd end up getting his eyes torn out by a melon baller?

Petril makes the mistake of drawing the gun on Bryan because he clearly hasn't been watching this movie. He fires, but the gun is empty. Bryan throws the bullets at him, telling him how his desk job has made him forget his training. Bryan realizes this is dead end, so thanks Petril's wife Isabelle for the lovely dinner and leaves. Ha hah got you again, he SHOOTS HER IN THE FUCKING ARM! HOLY SHIT.

At this point in movie I am praying the children are heavy sleepers and don't hear any of this because if they come downstairs Bryan will likely reenact torture scene from Reservoir Dogs on them. Bryan tells Petril he'll kill her if he doesn't help him find Saint-Clair. Petril looks him up on his database, finding his address and giving it to Bryan. On his way out, Bryan tells Petril to apologize to Isabelle on his behalf. What a gentleman.

Saint-Clair is having a very fancy party at his equally fancy mansion. Bryan impersonates a police officer to enter, which surprises me because I was sure he was going to take a machine gun and just shoot his way through the party guests. He follows Saint-Clair to the basement, finding a room where men in darkened booths are buying girls in an auction. Knocking out the waiter serving the men, Bryan enters one of the booths to see Kim is next for sale. Now THAT'S some timing! Bryan pulls a gun on man in booth, having him buy Kim. As they go to collect her, Bryan gets jumped from behind and knocked out. I guess his special skill don't include checking his freaking six.

Bryan wakes up in boiler room where Saint-Clair orders his men to kill him. Bryan naturally escapes and easily kills all of them, despite being handcuffed. There is no tension in any of these fight scenes anymore as Bryan is completely invincible and never gets hurt, I mean yeah it's Liam Neeson but give us SOMETHING movie. This makes the previous scene where he got knocked out completely out of place now, the thug should have broken his hand trying to hit Bryan.  Bryan catches up to Saint-Clair, shooting him several times to incapacitate him. Saint-Clair says Kim is “on a boat by the quay”, which is all Bryan needs to hear so he kills him. If it were me, I maybe would have asked for a few more details.

But who needs information when you have Bryan Sense? Bryan immediately finds the boat just as they're loading Kim onto it and boards it. Do I even have to say what happens next? Although to the movie's credit, it must have finally realized Super Bryan is getting boring so he finally gets in a fight where he doesn't have the upper hand. This makes for the best fight in the film, as it feels very realistic and is quite brutal with both men giving it their all.

Bryan finally overcomes him and goes into the next room, finding the Big Bad holding a knife to Kim's throat. Before he can offer Bryan any kind of deal, Bryan simply shoots him in the head because he is TO THE POINT. And that's the movie.  We wrap up with Bryan bringing Kim home to Lenore and The Most Interesting Man, then later taking her to meet Sheerah.

Cue the credits.

With all the hype this movie got, I was expecting a LOT more. This thing was built up to be a fresh take on the action genre, full of thrills and surprises. I did not see any of the sort. Its only saving grace was the fact it was was short, sweet, and right to the point which I GREATLY applaud in the current era of three hour rambling bullshit. But ask yourself: what did this movie do differently than the other nine million Righteous Hero Kills People To Rescue A Woman movies currently out there? Why did THIS strike such a chord in the hearts of audiences worldwide?

It can't be Liam Neeson's portrayal of Socipathic Superman, we already knew Neeson was Bad Assery Incarnate before this came out. Neeson's strength is injecting humanity into his characters, we got almost none of that here the second he set foot in Paris. He didn't give a damn about poor Amanda, the woman he rescued from the Construction Site Brothel, or any of the handcuffed women in the kidnappers' house. I kept comparing this to Arnold Schwarzenegger's classic Commando, Arnold DAMN SURE would have helped those captive women.

And then there was Bryan's shooting of Isabelle, I mean JESUS. I totally get Bryan is a non-nonsense bad ass who is on a race against time to save his daughter before it's too late so he doesn't have a second to spare on your bullshit, but COME ON. This just turned him into some ridiculous anti-hero that feels like he shot his way out of a Marvel comic book, dragging all the grim 'n gritty he could find with him. See also the torture interrogation scene.

This joins the growing lists of films that I don't understand why they were so popular, which apparently means I need to keep paying my dues to the “Haters Gonna Hate” Club. If you do find yourself watching it you'll at least be entertained because it flows damn near perfectly with no dead moments. The editing is slick as hell here, as things are paced so smooth you almost never get a chance to think about what you just saw. But since turning your brain off for a film is something I am not a fan of, I can't recommend this for any good reason.