Tag Archives: taken

‘The Gunman’ Low On Guns, High on Snoozes

The_Gunman_Official_Theatrical_PosterA message to Sean Penn: Liam Neeson you are not.

“The Gunman” stars Sean Penn as an ex-gun-for-hire who carried out a foreign assassination and finds his past catching up to him eight years later. Idris Elba, Ray Winstone and Javier Bardem also star as Pierre Morel (director of the first “Taken” film) directs.

On paper, this movie should have worked. Sure, the “retired gunman comes out for one last job” is a rehashed genre (heck, I just reviewed “Run All Night” the other day), but “Gunman” has an A-list cast, a director who showed he can direct a 50-year-old in an action film, and a fun-looking trailer. What’s the end result? A bunch of A-list cameos, shoddily executed action scenes, and a trailer that clearly knew it had to lie about the true content of its product.

For a movie entitled “The Gunman” there sure is a scarcity of guns in this film. Like seriously, I think there are three shootouts in this, and most of them consist of Sean Penn ducking in-and-out of cover, spraying his gun at what he hopes are enemies.

The film takes a few minutes to get up and running, giving us what I assume they intended to be character development (it’s just boring forced narrative). When the first shot is finally taken, you think you’re in for a solid action film. LOL, nope. The rest of the first act is an awkward and unbelievable soap opera drama between Penn, Bardem and Penn’s ex-girlfriend, who is now Bardem’s wife and Bardem is threatened by Penn, but he’s not, and…I don’t know what to tell you, the film is a mess.

Let’s get to the characters. No one in this film acts like a real person. Bardem is a clowny cartoon, who says things that made me cringe and scratch my head. In his limited screen time he is just a laughing, bumbling goofball, paranoid that Penn is simply there to steal his wife. Idris Elba shows up for five minutes simply to put his name on the poster, and Ray Winstone does his grumbling Ray Winstone thing. Any big name actor on the poster not named Sean Penn is in this movie for no more than 15 minutes, I kid you not.

I really don’t know if there’s anything good I can say about “The Gunman”. The more I write about it, the more I’m growing to dislike it, and I walked out disliking it a pretty fair amount as was. Even the set pieces of the Congo, London and Rome are so bland they don’t add any visual candy to the experience.

Sean Penn clearly wanted to make this movie (he also produced and co-wrote it), but this passion project was a struggle to sit through. The film is so agonizingly paced, clichédly written and boring in its narrative that when the gun battles we were promised in the trailer finally arrive, we just don’t care.

“The Gunman” has all the looks and feel of a mid-day soap opera, but all the razor-sharp excitement of a mid-day soap opera. The only reason this mundane “action” film won’t derail Sean Penn’s career is because the only people who will hopefully ever be forced to sit through it are in an interrogation room in Guantanamo Bay.

Critics Rating: 3/10



Neeson Fires More Guns in Entertaining ‘Run All Night’

RunAllNight_TeaserPosterStop me if you’ve heard this one before: Liam Neeson plays an alcoholic absentee father who carries a gun and must save the save the day.

“Run All Night” stars Neeson as a former mob hitman who goes on the run (you know, all night long) with his son (Joel Kinnaman) after he kills the son of a mob boss (played by Ed Harris).  Jaume Collet-Serra, who directed Neeson in “Unknown” and “Non-Stop”, directs here.

You’ve seen this movie before. Heck, you’ve seen Liam Neeson make this movie before. And it could have been just another Liam Neeson shoot-em-up in the post-Taken universe, if not for a handful of dedicated performances and well-staged action scenes.

Liam Neeson has rebranded himself as the 60-year-old guy with a gun, and to mixed results. The first “Taken” is fun, while its sequels are average and awful (the latter coming this past January). I liked “Unknown”, but “Non-Stop” was a little too stupid me. “Run All Night” is the best film Liam has been in since the first “Taken”, and I really enjoyed it.

All the actors in the film seem to really be having a good time, while simultaneously giving their all. Neeson and Kinnaman (who portrayed RoboCop last year) have the proper amount of chemistry needed for the kind of strained father-son relationship they’re portraying. I wasn’t a fan of Kinnaman’ stoic face in “RoboCop”, but here it works, playing a son who doesn’t want to open up to a father who was never there.

Common shows up as an assassin hired to hunt down Neeson and Kinnaman, and while I’m still not convinced he’s in this for any reason but to sell more tickets, his character was an interesting addition to the film. It’s also worth noting that in a film that features Liam Neeson, Ed Harris and Nick Nolte (eight nominations between them), Common is the only actor in this movie with an Oscar (for Best Song this past year).

Most of the action is shot very well, and is separated by enough human drama to give the film some depth. I thought both “Unknown” and “Non-Stop” were inhibited by their PG-13 rating, and it is clear director Collet-Serra is taking advantage of his R-rating here. This isn’t necessarily a shoot-em-up, but when guns are fired, most of the time it results in a headshot, which, as a 20-year-old guy, I’m not complaining.

There aren’t too many missteps with “Run All Night”. One thing the film does consistently is aerial shots from one location to another, flying over a clearly CGI New York City, so that irked me for whatever reason. The film’s climax is also just a *little* bit drawn out, especially because, thanks to the movie’s trailers and opening sequence, we can guess the outcome.

“Run All Night” is probably the best of the post-Taken Liam Neeson films, and is also, for what it’s worth, one of the best films of 2015. Neeson and Ed Harris have a fun scene of verbal back-and-forth, and there are several cat-and-mouse scenes with well-executed tension. I really enjoyed this film, and am glad to see Neeson making movies that aren’t “Taken 3” and “Million Ways to Die in the West”.

Critics Rating: 7/10



Third Time is Far From the Charm with ‘Taken 3’

Taken_3_poster            I really have to stop giving movies the benefit of the doubt.

Liam Neeson returns as Bryan Mills, the man with a particular set of skills, in “Taken 3”. This time around no one is taken but instead Bryan is framed for the murder of his ex-wife and must run from the LAPD and clear his name. The film is directed by Olivier Megaton, who directed “Taken 2” but not “Taken 1”, so do with that info what you will.

“Taken 3” is the third movie in a series, is following a subpar sequel, and is being released in January. There is literally no reason why I should have thought this would be a good film but alas, I went in optimistic.

That was my mistake and I take full responsibility

There’s a lot going on in “Taken 3” and almost none of it is done coherently. Much like “Taken 2”, Megaton cannot shoot a clean PG-13 action scene, and everything is done using shaky-cam, close-ups and quick, nausea-inducing edits. There is one segment when Neeson is running from the police and you can’t tell what is going on. I actually had to look away from the screen because it was hurting my eyes.

The saving grace is that there isn’t much action in this action film. I actually timed it: it takes 40 minutes for Neeson to punch someone, exactly an hour for him to kill someone and an hour-twenty before he fires a gun. In a movie that is marketed as Liam Neeson killing bad guys, and the third film of a franchise that has seen him kill a combined 50 men, taking over half the film for someone to finally die is unacceptable.

One of the things “Taken 3” almost does well is Forest Whitaker’s new character. Playing the inspector assigned to solving the murder, Whitaker is pretty much Neeson’s mental equal. Every time Neeson tries to pull something, like lose a cell phone or distract the police with a fake car, Whitaker knows it’s a trap and doesn’t fall for it. For a while it is was interesting, however by the end of the film is becomes more tedious because it means that no one is actually gaining any ground on one another.

Try now, if you will, to remember “A Good Day to Die Hard” and how indestructible John McClane has become. That is Liam Neeson in the Taken franchise. He survives things that no human being could ever live through, such as a car flipping a dozen times down a hill and said car then exploding. What’s worse is in the very next scene he is shown completely unharmed, and the film either doesn’t explain how he survived and just expects you to accept it or worse offers a ludicrous, implausible explanation.

This is the best way I can sum it up: the Taken trilogy is just like the Hangover films. The first film was a fun surprise, the second was a subpar but passable carbon copy, and the third tries to divert from the original formula but it ends in horrifically boring results.

“Taken 3” is an uneventful film that is hampered by ineffective PG-13 action sequences, and even seemingly dedicated performances by Neeson and Whitaker can’t elevate an awful script. There isn’t much more to say about this film. The word “taken” is in the title, yet the only thing taken is the audience’s $10. The poster for the film says “It Ends Here”; I sure as heck hope so.

Critics Rating: 3/10



‘Tombstones’ a Cliche, Slightly Engaging Thriller

A_Walk_Among_the_Tombstones_poster           When Liam Neeson isn’t playing Zeus, training Batman or killing European men to save his daughter, he works as a private investigator in 1999 New York City.

In “A Walk Among the Tombstones”, Neeson plays Matthew Scudder, a retired New York City cop who now finds employment as a PI. When a drug kingpin contacts Scudder about finding the men who killed his wife, Scudder finds himself in a race to catch the men before they strike again. Dan Stevens and Boyd Holbrook also star, as Scott Frank writes and directs the film, which is based on a Lawrence Block novel.

Liam Neeson has had quite a diverse 2014. After starting the year voicing a Raccoon and a Lego cop, he saved a hijacked airplane (oops, spoiler. But I mean…if you haven’t seen “Non-Stop” at this point then I doubt you really want to) and he also played an American cowboy with an Irish accent (because, sure). Now Neeson takes a step back and takes on a much more serious and reality-grounded film with “Tombstones”. And how is it? …I mean, it’s alright.

The setup in this film is very solid. We get a little bit of Scunner’s backstory as to why he became a PI and quit the NYPD, but just enough to wet our appetite; we get bits and pieces throughout that complete the puzzle. We are then introduced to the kingpin, played by Dan Stevens. The guy seems like he has a few demons he himself is dealing with, and he is drug dealer, so we are not sure if we can trust him. However when he shows Scunner what the men who kidnapped his wife did to her, we quickly learn that they are not human, and that they need to be stopped.

“Tombstones” isn’t really a mystery, as we know 15 minutes in who the bad guys are, and what their motivation is. The movie even shows several scenes from their perspective. But it continues to treat itself like it is a mystery, as if every time Neeson himself finds a clue we are supposed to act all surprised and begin racking our own brains. This is one of the film’s largest flaws.

As interesting the characters and despicable the villains, we are never really met with many moments of tension or suspense. Sure, sometimes you feel like Neeson is being followed, or that a character knows more than they’re leading on, however the matter is quickly resolved, before you can really absorb the situation.

The ending also could leave more to be desired. Obviously I won’t spoil anything, but the ending seems like it is going to get interesting, but then takes a cliché route before cutting off and rolling credits entirely. You wish for all the set up the film had (or at least tried to have), it would give the audience more of a payoff.

Neeson and the rest of the cast do fine work, and Frank’s direction and screenplay are both nice and neat. The production value is also impressive, considering the film is set in New York on the eve of the Y2K crisis (because why not?). There just aren’t enough new things in “A Walk Among the Tombstones” to make it memorable.

I was never bored while watching, and Neeson does get to flash his BA badge a few times, however I just couldn’t help but think as I sat there and watch that all I really wanted was for Neeson to answer a cellphone and yell “give me back my daughter!” and before hopping on a plane to France.

Critics Rating: 6/10

‘Non-Stop’ High on Thrills, Low on Brains

Non-Stop2014PosterLiam Neeson is an air marshal on a hijacked plane. Yes, that is the plot summary of “Non-Stop” but it is also all I should have to say to make you enticed to watch the film. Also starring Julianne Moore and Corey Stoll, the film is directed by Jaume Collet-Serra, who also directed Neeson in “Unknown”.

Liam Neeson adds credibility to any film he is in. He takes pretty much any role he wants, but unlike other actors who do that such as Nicolas Cage, Neeson gives every role his all. Whether he playing Zeus or punching wolves, Neeson can make even the corniest movie entertaining if nothing else, and “Non-Stop” is no different. It is a stupid, over-the-top movie that benefits greatly from Neeson’s presence; his growling tone and frantic actions keep the film from ever being boring.

“Non-Stop” really is one of those movies that you have to watch with absolutely no brain cells on. There are so many unexplained plot twists, implausible breaks in the laws of physics and laughable coincidences that if you watch the film with connections to reality you may just get an aneurism.

I’m all for fun, brainless movies, but a film has to know what it is. The biggest problem with “Non-Stop” is that it spends 75% of the film being a mindless Liam Neeson thriller, but suddenly switches gears and tries to implement a political agenda and give a view on social issues. If the whole film had been building up to a lesson, or the filmmakers hadn’t ditched the rules of reality so early, then maybe the message would have been welcome. But since it comes out of left field it just exposes the film for trying to be smarter than it really is.

I am really split on “Non-Stop”. It is certainly no “Taken”, or even better than the last Neeson-Collet-Serra pairing “Unknown”, but it does a good job at never losing your interest. You know what the characters know, and are right next to Neeson, trying to figure out which of the passengers is hijacking the plane.

How much fun you have with the movie really relies on how easily forgiving you are of flawed movies, because “Non-Stop” has more than its fair share of them.  If you can easily overlook such things as nothing happening when a gun is fired at 30,000 feet in the air then you may just have a good time with “Non-Stop”. However if you are one of those people who needs their movies to have substance and both legs in reality, you may want to watch this with a grain of salt.

Critics Rating: 6/10