Movie Review: 3 Days to Kill (2014)

May 21, 2014 in Movie Reviews, Reviews

3-days-to-kill-movie-poster-1

When I first saw the poster for Three Days to Kill, I was pretty certain that it would be a Taken ripoff with Kevin Costner as the Liam Neeson character and Amber Heard as his daughter. She gets kidnapped or something and he has three days to use his considerable abilities — ie, killing people — to get her back. I was wrong, but maybe it would have been better than what it turned out to be.

As it turned out, Three Days to Kill is very different to what I imagined. Kevin Costner is a CIA “lifer” sent into retirement due to dire health reasons and tries to rekindle his broken relationship with his estranged wife (Connie Nielsen) and daughter (Hailee Steinfeld), who are both living in France. So who the heck does Amber Heard play? A CIA assassin who coaxes Costner to complete one final mission in return for an “experimental drug” that could save his life. So the film is essentially a father-daughter bonding movie (they have three days to spend together, hence the title, but it’s also a pun because his mission is to kill someone — get it?). There are action sequences and all, but the heart of it is about a dying man doing his best to make it up to his family.

The screenplay is co-written by French master Luc Besson, and you do get a sense of his influence through the dialogue and the occasional use of humour. The director, on the other hand, is none other than McG, best known for the Charlie’s Angels films and Terminator Salvation, so in that respect you know expectations ought not to be so high. The technical aspects of it, including the action, are well executed, but the film falls way short in its desire to generate any genuine emotion from the family conflicts.

Kevin Costner, who has re-emerged as of late in supporting roles, does his best here as a poor man’s Liam Neeson. You can kind of see him as an ex-CIA killer, and you can definitely see him as an old, dying man whose prime left him a long time ago. Hailee Steinfeld, who was nominated for an Oscar for True Grit, is not bad either as the typical teenage daughter, but there’s not much we haven’t seen before from characters of this type.

The WTF award goes to Amber Heard. Seriously, it’s one of the weirdest roles I have ever seen. She is introduced as a serious CIA assassin in the very first scene, but for the entire movie she does — wait for it — absolutely nothing. She just stands and observes from a distance, showing up every now and then in tight outfits for no apparent reason other than to provide (sometimes unintentional) comic relief. I thought her job was to kill people — but then why is she getting Costner to do her job for her? And why does she have access to a test drug? None of it makes any sense.

In the end, I don’t really know what they were trying to do here. It’s commendable that there is an actual story here rather than just an attempt to rip off Taken, but having said that the father-daughter relationship by itself did not have enough substance or originality to keep the film afloat. The action was adequate but nothing special, and while the black humour and one liners were welcome it was fairly standard stuff from Luc Besson. It’s not terrible, and I did find some moments entertaining and fun, but at best 3 Days to Kill qualifies as no more than a solid DVD rental.

2.75 stars out of 5

Movie Review: Non-Stop (2014)

March 26, 2014 in Movie Reviews, Reviews

non-stop-poster

It’s kind of crazy that we now automatically associate Liam Neeson with action thrillers, but that’s what he’s been giving us time after time since 2008. His latest, Non-Stop, is another solid entry that is, uh, non-stop entertainment from the get-go, and despite its implausibility and flaws, is arguably his strongest effort since Taken, one of the best in the genre in more than a decade.

When director Jaume Collet-Serra teamed up with Liam Neeson in 2011 they delivered Unknown, a fairly interesting action-mystery that kept audiences guessing until it collapsed under the pressure of being forced to provide answers. Non-Stop has that similar semi-surreal feel to it where the mystery is seemingly too bizarre to be real, but in my opinion it is more thrilling, more riveting and more daring, and even though the explanation is expectedly a letdown, it’s actually not too lame, relatively speaking.

Neeson plays Bill Marks, a US federal air marshal battling some personal demons. He is assigned to a flight from New York to London, and shortly after takeoff, begins receiving strange messages on his secure phone line telling him that passengers will be killed unless a ransom is paid. Without divulging too much more, the mystery begins to get stranger and stranger the more Marks tries to find out who is responsible. It’s a classic “locked room mystery” set on a plane, where any one of the 150 passengers — including the pilots, the crew and the passengers — could be the culprit.

That’s the wonderful thing about Non-Stop, which takes full advantage of the situation to deliver clues, red herrings and misdirection at a frantic pace to keep audiences off edge. The script and Collet-Serra’s direction cleverly bring out suspect after suspect, each of whom seem equally capable of being the villain. I would be very surprised if any audience members managed to solve the mystery in advance.

And the action, considering the confined space, is well executed too, gradually ramping up to a climatic finish. There are no breaks in the pace, an impressive feat given the 106-minute running time. The initial scenes are intentionally blurry and choppy so there is minimal set up, and audiences are soon thrust into a white-knuckle roller coaster ride that never stops twist and turning.

Liam Neeson, even at 61, is perfect as Marks and looks like he can still kick plenty of ass for at least another 5 years. I was also surprised at some of the big names and familiar faces in the supporting cast. There’s the always pleasant Julianne Moore as the mysterious stranger in the seat next to Marks, Downton Abbey star Michelle Dockery as his trusted air hostess, Oscar winner Lupita Nyong’o as another hostess, model Bar Paly as a skanky seductress in first class, and Scoot McNairy (Argo, Killing Them Softly) and Corey Stoll (House of Cards) as suspicious passengers.

With a film like Non-Stop you obviously can’t take things too seriously or think too much, because the moment you do it all starts to unravel. There are about half a dozen problems with the way the plot progressed and the way the characters reacted, just off the top of my head, but I didn’t let them get to me during the film because I was having too much fun going along for the ride.

The dialogue and character interactions are also cheesy and “scripted” in that they in no way resemble reality, but none of these issues are deal breakers either. They serve their minimum purpose so we can get on with what we want to see, and that’s Liam Neeson being a badass.

Ultimately, I found Non-Stop to be one of the stronger action thrillers I’ve seen in some time. It plays to its strengths, shies away from its weaknesses and milks an intriguing scenario for all it’s worth. The unfortunate reminder of topical events (ie, missing Malaysia Airlines flight 370) is of course pure coincidence, but it does make one ponder how secure commercial flights really are in the post-911 age.

4 stars out of 5

Movie Review: Taken 2 (2012)

October 21, 2012 in Movie Reviews, Reviews

The moral of the story is simple: don’t f*&% with Liam Neeson.

After getting a thorough ass-whooping in the first film, which I declared was one of the best action films of the past decade, those pesky Albanians did not learn their lesson. The father of one of the human traffickers wanted revenge, and he was going to make Bryan Mills pay with a lot more inept henchmen. Bad idea.

I may sound like I’m teasing, but I actually enjoyed Taken 2 a lot. It was impossible to live up to the original anyway, which surprised just about everyone with its brutal efficiency and the total badassness of Neeson’s Mills, a former CIA operative who can kill you in just about every way imaginable. True, Taken 2 is a lazy and completely unnecessary sequel that is even more far-fetched than the original, and let’s face it, was made with only $$$ in mind, but it still manages to thrill by re-captivating some of the magic of the original.

The premise ofTaken 2 is about as unimaginative as it gets: the father of the dude whom Mills electrocuted in the first film in Paris promises to avenge his son’s death. Mills is in Istanbul for freelance security work and is visited by his ex-wife (Famke Janssen) — who is conveniently having “problems” with her second husband — and their daughter (Maggie Grace, who is surprisingly convincing as someone young enough to be going for her driver’s licence). Nasty henchmen try to “take” them all (and succeeds with two of them, hence Taken “2″ — get it?), unleashing the killing machine in Mills once again.

Taken 2 steals shamelessly from its predecessor without really attempting to do anything new or different. Liam Neeson shows off some incredible secret agent brains in addition to killing enemies with guns, melee weapons and his bare hands, and Maggie Grace has a much larger role, but that’s about it. Director Olivier Megaton (surely that cannot be a real name), whose previous efforts include Columbiana and Transporter 3, replaces Pierre Morel, but I didn’t really feel that much of a difference in style. There are gun fights, hand-to-hand combat and car chases galore, all of it happening at break-neck speed after the predictable initial set-up.

The script, written again by Luc Besson and Robert Mark Kamen, is lazy — there’s no way to deny that. It assumes we know what Bryan Mills is and what he and has family have been through, and character development is essentially provided through flashbacks to the first film. The bad guy is pretty pathetic and is driven only by revenge, but at the same time he has some strange reasons for not wanting to kill Mills when given the opportunity. The Albanians also sometimes speak to each other in what I presume is Albanian, and at other times in English with Eastern European accents — none of it makes much sense.

But on the other hand, there’s nothing quite like watching the captivating Neeson — who is 60 years old in real life, by the way — run around beating up and killing a whole bunch of bad guys. It’s brainless entertainment but it’s fun and exciting while it lasts.

In other words, if you enjoyed Taken, there’s a good chance you’ll enjoy parts, or at least elements, of Taken 2. It’s no secret that the film was cashing in on the success of the original, which is vastly superior in every way, but watching Liam Neeson go on a rampage for an action-packed 91 minutes is still preferable to the majority of action films these days.

3.5 stars out of 5!

PS: If there is going to be a third film, which is highly possible given the loose ends in the script, I’ll definitely be watching.

Movie Review: Stolen (2012)

September 30, 2012 in Movie Reviews, Reviews

Liam Neeson’s daughter was Taken (and will be again in about another week); Nicolas Cage’s daughter is…Stolen!

I bet I’m not the only one who thought that the two movies smelled eerily similar: a kidnapped daughter; an estranged father with a certain skill-set who would do anything to get her back = an action film filled with brainless but awesome action.

But fortunately/unfortunately, that’s where the similarities end. I was actually surprised to find that Stolen, despite its  derivative title, is a completely different style of film to Taken. The latter is a dark, violent and relentless thrill ride that turned out to be one of the best action films of the last decade. The former, on the other hand, is merely an above-average, half-serious popcorn action movie starring Nicolas “I’ll do any movie for money” Cage.

Stolen‘s title is cleverer than it sounds because Cage plays Will Montgomery, “America’s greatest bank robber” (get it?). Without giving away anything more than the bare necessities, Cage’s daughter (Sami Gayle) is abducted by a vengeful village (Josh Lucas) and Will must rely on his skills to get her back with the help of former ally Riley (Malin Ackerman). Hot on his heels are a couple of inept FBI agents played by Danny Huston and Mark Valley. The result is a compact and frequently exciting 96 minutes of running around, car chases, dramatic escapes, near misses and Nic Cage being Nic Cage.

Honestly, it’s not as bad as it reads. It’s easy to be dismissive of Stolen simply because it stars Mr Cage, the Oscar winner who has in recent times delivered us such masterpieces as Ghost Rider: Spirit of VengeanceSeeking Justice, Trespass, Drive Angry, Season of the Witch and The Sorcerer’s ApprenticeBut Stolen does have its moments and is probably one of Cage’s most watchable films from the last five years.

The strangest thing with the film is that it starts off rather seriously, but becomes more and more lighthearted as it progresses, in reverse correlation to what is at stake. By the end it’s more or less a comedy — and I’m not sure if that is a good or bad thing. The film is directed by Simon West (The Expendables 2), who was also matched up with Cage in Con Air 15 years ago, and delivers a somewhat similar feel that mixes farcical situations with over-the-top action and cheesy, sarcastic humour.

Watching Stolen, however, does require one to forgo all logic and common sense. There are some pretty outrageous coincidences and situations (one involving a dislocation and another involving a dead cop) that you simply have to accept — questioning any of these things will just make the entire film fall apart. There’s also the most insulting caricature of an Australian traveller that all Aussie viewers will have to put up with for a few minutes (it might actually be the worst scene of any movie I’ve seen all year). Tanc Sade should be ashamed of himself for embarrassing all Australians by accepting a role that perpetuates the view that all Aussie travellers are obnoxious dicks who talk like Steve Irwin.

The cast (apart from the aforementioned Sade) is good but the performances are patchy. Nic Cage is Nic Cage, and you can interpret that however you want. Malin Ackerman is little more than underused eye-candy. Danny Huston feels out of place because he’s a much better actor than everyone else and he knows it. Mark Valley is effective as a twat.

The one actor that gets a paragraph all to himself is Josh Lucas. Even though he is an old hand at playing snarky villains,  I initially thought he was horribly miscast. But then I thought maybe it was just the atrocious lines he kept spewing out. And eventually I just realized he was supposed to be this hilarious. I just wish I could have figured it out sooner.

In the end, I enjoyed Stolen much more than I thought I would, and I’m not ashamed to say I did. Of course, the more I think about it the worse it gets, but the point of such movies has always been to just watch it, switch off your brain and go along for the ride.

3.25 stars out of 5

Movie Review: Lockout (2012)

July 14, 2012 in Movie Reviews, Reviews

Taken in space? I’m sold.

That, at least, was the advertised premise of Lockout, a sci-fi action movie co-written by French master (I use that term loosely) Luc Besson. Some time in the future, the US government decides to send its worst prisoners off into a maximum security prison in space, where they will be put under “stasis” (ie, sleep), for the duration of their sentences (I suppose to save money?). Somehow, the president’s daughter (Maggie Grace) ends up there, prisoners break loose, and there’s only one man that can save the day — Snow (Guy Pearce) — a former CIA operative arrested for murdering an undercover colleague.

Sounds pretty exciting, right?

Lockout hasn’t gotten many decent reviews but it’s not as bad as people have made it out to be. While Guy Pearce is not necessarily the man you would picture as a badass CIA operative (after all, he only recently played possibly the oldest man in the world in Prometheus), the Aussie actor is clearly the standout of the film. He oozes screen presence and actually looks the part, all buffed and toned. But it’s his ability to hit the mark on all of Snow’s awesome one-liners that makes Lockout an occasionally enjoyable ride. Even if the action doesn’t quite get there for you, the humour might.

Speaking of the action, that’s where Lockout struggles to differentiate itself from other films of the genre. The fight scenes are surprisingly meek and there’s not a whole lot of creativity. There is one combat scene that makes use of the space concept, but that’s about it. There’s almost not much of a climax, or at least one that is worthy of a mention. It’s a shame because it essentially wastes the fact that they are in space! Space!

The special effects also don’t provide much to talk about. In fact, while there are a few “outdoor’ shots, almost everything takes place inside the prison, so those expecting an spectacular spacecraft battles are likely to be disappointed.

The biggest problem with Lockout might be the villains. It’s a space prison with the worst mankind has to offer, but there aren’t any memorable baddies. They may be crazy or menacing but no one has any…personality. If you think of a film like Con Air, chances are you’ll remember an assortment of interesting bad guys. In Lockout, it never really feels like the bad guys were given a chance to do anything.

Despite all the complaints, I didn’t think Lockout was painful to watch. It could have been so much more, but instead it ended up just being an average sci-fi/action film boosted by a great comedic performance by Guy Pearce.

3 out of 5

 
%d bloggers like this: