Lockout is to Escape From New York what Battle Beyond The Stars was to The Magnificent Seven and The Seven Samurai – a low-budget romp that transplants one’s setting [Battle Beyond The Star to space from the old west or ancient Japan; Lockout to space from a post-apocalyptic New York that’s been turned into a gigantic prison].. The plot remains the same, but the setting and the characters’ names have changed. The result is fast-paced, violent entertainment that’s enhanced by witty dialogue and just enough unexpected variations on time worn themes to keep the audience guessing.
Remember the opening chase sequence from Casino Royale? Replace James bond with a half-dozen thugs and Bond’s prey with a nine-year old girl and you have a pretty good idea of the intensity level at which Colombiana begins. The Olivier Megaton-directed Luc Besson production maintains that intensity for almost two hours.
A retired spy’s daughter is kidnapped to be sold as a sex slave [the slightly skeevey part]. The ex-spy hunts the men who kidnapped her. As premises go, this one is simple, direct and a bit odd to find in a PG-13 film – but we are talking about a Luc Besson production, so maybe it’s not really a surprise.
What is a surprise is that Taken, co-written by Besson [Leon, The Professional and The Fifth Element] and Robert Mark Kamen [The Karate Kid, The Transporter], and directed by Pierre Morel [District B13], is better than the premise suggests. This mostly because it takes a bit of time to establish that our protagonist, Bryan Mills [Liam Neeson] has retired because he wants to reconnect with his daughter, Kim [Maggie Grace]. We believe him because we see how disappointed he is when her mother, Lenore [Famke Janssen] and step-father, Stuart [Xander Berkley] upstage him at her birthday party [he brings her an expensive karaoke machine, but Stuart gives her a horse].
When she and her mother persuade him to sign a waiver allowing Kim to go to Paris, his warnings of danger fall on deaf ears and – sure enough – she and her friend are kidnapped. Then comes the phone conversation we saw in the trailer – followed by Mills taking action. Although Neeson is not a small guy, he does a good job of making himself seem ordinary as he begins tracking down the kidnappers, but once he swings into action, he becomes a force of nature.
Morel keeps the action up front and his pacing builds as Mills works himself up the chain of command – starting with the spotter who set up Kim and her friend. The usual ingredients of a Besson production are here – fights, chases, explosions – but because we buy into Mills as a father, there is a little more gravity, a little more at stake than usual.
Taken is entertaining but, ultimately, reliant on one performance. If you buy Neeson as Mills, then you’ll enjoy the movie. If not, you won’t. I did.
Final Grade: B-
The basic premise of the Transporter movies is, as noted above, taking Package X from Point A to Point B. What makes the series fun is the obstacles that pop up every time we see Frank Martin [Jason Statham] take on a new gig. In Transporter 3, Frank is unwittingly involved into helping an eco-terrorist named Johnson [Prison Break’s Robert Knepper, going from scuzzy and greasy, to silky and sly] blackmail a member of The Ukraine’s government into signing a contract that would enable him to have toxic materials dumped there on a regular basis.
How does he plan to do this? By kidnapping the minister’s daughter, Valentina [Natalya Rudakova]. How does keep the minister from finding her and thwarting his plan? Yup. By hiring Frank to take a package from just outside Marseilles to Budapest. Frank thinks the package is the bag in his trunk – but only for about as long as it takes to realize that she shares the same booby trap as him – a bracelet that will blow them up real good if they venture more than seventy-five feet from the car.
Director Olivier Megaton [there’s a good story behind the pseudonym – look it up online] brings a fresh zing to the franchise. His film has more of a staccato rhythm than its predecessors, and the bottom to the score literally rattles the theater. Cory Yuen returns to choreography the martial arts mayhem and gives us a look at why Frank’s wardrobe is so important to him.
Also as usual, stuff does blow up real good – just not Frank or Valentina. The special effects work is bigger and, and yet more delicately placed [in terms of timing], fuelling Megaton’s rhythms as much as Yuen’s fight sequences. Frank remains rather droll, looking more inconvenienced by his opponents than any danger – until he does finally catch up with Johnson, of course.
By limiting Frank to a set distance from his, Megaton and scriptwriters Luc Besson and Robert Kamen create a situation where Frank has to be even more creative in the way he handles problems – and it’s Statham’s wry presence that helps the audience to buy into the conceit. In Transporter 3, we get a purely fun flick to offset all the mawkish holiday movies and serious awards bait. It’s not brilliant, but better-than-average, propulsive fun has its place.
Final Grade: B-