Friday, 23 November 2012

The Thin White Dude's Reviews - Taken 2

Directed by: Olivier Megaton

Produced by: Luc Besson

Screenplay by: Luc Besson
Robert Mark Kamen

Starring: Liam Neeson
Maggie Grace
Famke Janssen
Rade Serbedzija

Music by: Nathaniel Mechaly

Cinematography by: Romain Lacourbas

Editing by: Camille Delamarre
Vincent Tabaillon

Studio(s): EuropaCorp
Grive Productions
M6 Films

Distributed by: EuropaCorp Distribution (France)
20th Century Fox (United States)

Release date(s): September 7, 2012 (Deauville Film Festival)
October 3, 2012 (France)
October 4, 2012 (United Kingdom)
October 5, 2012 (United States)

Running time: 91 minutes

Country: France

Language: English

Production budget: $45 million

Box office revenue (as of publication): $352, 763, 000

Ahoy there, strangers, 'tis I (who the hell else?), The Thin White Dude, come to offer you, the unwashed masses (don't worry, I stink too!) some advice in the matter of "to see, or not to see?" I don't know why, but I just felt like writing that Bizarro opening because I couldn't think of a better way to start the review, being the lazy sod that I am. I've been keeping busy, as this week I have seen the new Twilight movie and Dead Heads, and there will be more on the way for the month of November, because being the ass-backwards goof that I am, I'm reviewing October's movies now. Also, if you happen to live in Belfast, I'd recommend that you make your way to Head, the DVD/record store beside Forbidden Planet, because they are selling Bergman, Takashi Miike (by way of the now out of print Tartan label) and Arrow Films DVDs at a cheap price. £5/£6 might be high-price range, but believe me, I've seen these films fetch at over £20 on Amazon, so, as ever, keep your eyes posted! And just a wee look in at my reviews. Please?

Anyway, today's review (I saw the film about a month ago!) is Taken 2. The original Taken, while by no means chopped liver, was a good, solid exploitation movie that just happened to feature Liam Neeson, an actor who made his name in films such as Schindler's List and Michael Collins, but who since Taken has essentially been redefined as an action film star. After Taken's box-office success, taking in roughly ten times it's budget, we get Taken 2, with Olivier Megaton, of Transporter 3, Colombiana and winner of Best Name That Sounds Like A Transformer fame at the helm. Following on from the first film, Bryan Mills (Neeson) is getting stead work in private security, and suggest to daughter Kim (Maggie Grace) and her mother Lenore (Famke Janssen), who's having relationship issues, to join him in Istanbul after he finishes a work assignment. Those of you privy to the first film will have the alarm bells ringing, because unbeknownst to the good folk relatives of those nasty Turks Mills killed in the first movie have declared revenge. You see where this is going?

Starting with the good, I must compliment Liam Neeson for his anchoring of the film. He brings a legitimacy to the proceedings, and I actually find that the scenes with him and his family to set up the action are among my favourites, because they feel real, and Neeson has such a natural screen presence. Also, as far as the action goes, he does that pretty good too. Apparently the stunts took their toll on Neeson during the shoot, but as far as I'm concerned he looked alright to me. Don't forget Charles Bronson was playing Paul Kersey in Death Wish 5 when he was in his seventies, see Neeson is by no means past his sell-by date. Also, his work here is greatly appreciated, because the film does require anchoring more so this time. It's a pretty well-shot movie too, and for that Romain Lacourbas must be credited. Though it is clearly going for that Bourne/DV kind of feeling, the film is lit appropriately, something which many filmmakers shooting in this way seem to have a problem with. Also, Luc Besson's presence on the production is of benefit, because even with run of the mill, nuts-and-bolts action movies, Besson as a producer always ensures that there will be a pace to the proceedings. I mean, Nikita is a movie of the same vein that has a better reputation than befits it, but it too is still a watchable movie. Finally, although Besson could perhaps be called the auteur of the project (he's a producer, writer, and despite directorial changes, there are numerous stylistic similarities), Olivier Megaton does a solid job as a director, and ensures that there is a degree of control and consistency on the project, nailing a (relatively) watchable exploitation flick.

Now, you can gather from the above that there were things to like about Taken 2, but equally there are things to dislike. I'm going to get the music out of the way, because, let's face it, I hate the music in nearly every movie, so you're probably bored stiff hearing about it. Nathaniel Mechaly, whose work outside of these films I am not familiar, may as well be filling in as a vessel for the spirit of the very same conductor of the Emotional Heartstrings Orchestra, who continues to haunt me with every movie he plagues. Every time there is a scene that is denoted as 'stirring,' we get 'stirring' music, every scene denoted 'action,' we get 'action' music. There's no attempt to challenge any orchestral conventions, and furthermore, if you don't want to challenge the conventions, at least make the music a good listen, because this is just the stuff of dullards. Also, it's obvious that Besson and co. have seen Drive, a film which in the short time since it's release has a cast wide net of influence. Salivating at the prospect of an homage to Nic Winding Refn's masterpiece, we got a nod to 'A Real Hero' playing on an iPod, and a whole scene is structured around the Chromatic's track 'Tick Of The Clock.' Both of these pieces weren't written for Drive, but they fit in perfectly, with Taken 2, you can't get away from the fact that they do nothing to elevate the proceeding and that it reminds you of a better film. Moving swiftly on (ramble on music done!), the script deserves a word or two. Turning the story upside down does not make it a different movie. This moves in the same not-so mysterious ways of the first film, and while I'm not against following the basic three-act structure, with so little to make it distinctive from the first, it feels like superfluous cash-in. Furthermore, the fact that the rating has been brought down to a 12A and a conscious decision has been made to tone it down, makes it feel like the brash dignity of brutality of what is essentially an exploitation flick has been castrated. There's no sense of legitimate danger! Moving on again (don't think the music was the worst thing about it because I denoted more words to it: the script definitely is!), I have a real problem with the editing. I know that aesthetically they are trying to establish how frenetic the action is, but doing what feels sixty or seventy different cuts for a thirty-second scene is simply ridiculous. There are far creative ways of editing a movie than letting Michael Myers, Freddy Krueger, Jason Voorhees and Leatherface have an all-out, last man standing battle to the death in the editing suite. Note to editors: fast cuts do not mean good cuts. They just mean people suffering disorientation, headaches and failing to follow what is going on for no reason other than your sheer laziness, you berks!

Don't get me wrong, Taken 2 is superfluous in the extreme and completely nonsensical balderdash (as is my use of big words!), but it is a decent, watchable exploitation flick. Granted, it lacks the kicks that the original had, but we have the strength of Luc Besson's production and his hiring of director Olivier Megaton, both of whom ensure the film has a pace and consistent level of control, and that it is a pretty well-shot movie. Finally, it features the mighty Liam Neeson, whose presence seems to bring about credibility in even the worst of projects (this is not among them), and I know, he's the star, but the film would be nothing of any significance of he were not here. Box-office figures show that Taken 2 has more than made it's money back, so we'll probably get at least one more. Just don't take it to Taken 9, with Liam Neeson on his deathbed, mumbling, "I wish I was dead. Oy..." 

The Thin White Dude's Prognosis - 5.0/10

The Thin White Dude's Self-Diagnosis - Procrastinating (I've a horrible essay on Nietzsche I've been putting off!)

P.S. Rade Serbedzija's, last seen as the best thing Renny Harlin's horrible 5 Days Of War, is pretty good too.

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