Friday, February 13, 2009

Taken for a ride

Taken is simultaneously adrenaline-pumping fun and...completely reprehensible garbage. I guess that's why they call them "B-movies"...A-movies have to choose between the fun and the trash.

Alas, B-movies don't have to discriminate, and this film certainly doesn't. It is coarse and gruff and violent without any clear sense of morality...and in that way, it is kinda fun to watch. If you can let your brain take a nap, you will probably have a great time.

For me, it was tough. I rarely like to turn my brain off, especially during movies. As a result, I shook my head many times at the baseless, unapologetic glee with which director Pierre Morel and writers Luc Besson and Robert Mark Kamen depict this very dark revenge picture as a rock 'em, sock 'em, damn-near-rollicking action flick. I mean, for godssakes, this is a film about the enslavement of young girls in an underground sex trafficking ring. How much fun can one squeeze out of that subject matter?

The answer, for me, is precisely none, but what works in Taken is, shockingly, the revenge story line. Morally-bankrupt revenge sagas usually anger me to no end, but there is something very intriguing about Morel's direction, and something very charismatic about Liam Neeson's performance. Up to this point, Morel is best known for directing the truly fun, wonderfully hyperkinetic action film, District B-13, in his native France, and he brings that visceral spirit to the work here, even if his very particular, almost psychedelic talent is a very awkward fit for this grim material. As for Neeson, I love these roles where he allows his physicality to become a natural, unspoken force. It is easy to overlook Neeson's size in his typically gentle, conventionally heroic roles, but the man is huge--tall, lean, and agile. And in this film, he kicks a lot of ass. It's quite fun to watch.

The story itself ranges from corny to outright lame, but when it is in its central ass-kicking zone, Taken is entertaining as a cold-blooded action blowout. So how does one judge such a simultaneously shamefully lightweight and shamelessly entertaining enterprise? With an analysis that jarringly blends two separate judgments, which befits the film's desire to jarringly blend slick exploitation with important subject matter. it a D+ for sheer stupidity, and a B+ for Liam Neeson kicking ass. All told, it equals a C+. 


MadMike said...

I loved this movie for all of the reasons you mentioned. It was pure escapism and how can anyone resist a good old "my daughter is kidnapped and I am going to get you for it" movie?

J McKiernan said...

Revenge movies tend to make me mad, because so few actually do them right. Far too often we don't feel the pain and focus too gleefully on the violence. "The Brave One" was highly effective because it was a meditation on the inner turmoil of the vigilante. It also seemed inspired by a graphic novel in making no apologies for just how indestructible Jodie Foster's character was. It was a superhero movie cloaked in hardcore realism. I find that terrifically interesting.

On the other hand, "Death Sentence" with Kevin Bacon was simply a nasty shoot-em-up that wanted the audience to feel ugly at the end. It had no was just pure hate. Those movies make me ill.

"Taken" is obviously not as quiet and intriguing as "The Brave One," and yet the revenge stuff didn't bother me this time. Part of it has to do with the gravitas Neeson brings to this wounded tough guy. Another part is the attitude of Pierre Morel, the director. He likes to have fun with his material, even if the material isn't all that fun. The result is a mixed bag, as I reported in the review...but the fun stuff is really fun. And I really dug the film's unabashedly cold-blooded approach to the revenge plot. Plus, Liam Neeson is about the most indestructible hero in the history of the cinema, which I find hilarious in the best possible way.