As someone with an undying love and devotion to the cinema of ass kicking, I have a rather large problem with so many of the new jack action movies hitting the multi-plex. Here is my issue, at no point through the entire length of these films does the audience ever for a single moment think that the protagonist is in any danger whatsoever, nor is there ever a question that he will reach his goal and save the day. There is no tension, none. I loved Casino Royale, but Daniel Craig’s second turn as Bond, Quantum of Solace, bored the living shit out of me.
Taken, from writer Luc Besson, and Besson prodigy, Pierre Morel, is a prime example of my point. It has all the bells and whistles—minimal character development, a flimsy premise with any number of glaring coincidences, the obligatory driving down the wrong side of the road car chase, and fight scenes inspired by Israeli military martial arts techniques—but it still falls flat. There is only one guy who even puts up a fight against Liam Neeson, and that’s the last guy he fights, some nonspecific Arab gentleman with eyeliner.
Neeson plays Bryan Mills, a former ‘preventer’ for the US military. He left the game to try to try to repair the relationship with his estranged daughter, only to be stifled at every turn by his ex, played by a pointless Famke Janssen. Against his wishes, the daughter and a friend take off on a trip to Paris to follow U2 on tour (yup). Well I’ll be dammed, within five minutes of landing on French soil the two obnoxious Americans get kidnapped by an Albanian girl-selling ring. Who saw that coming? I thought the skeevy guy at the airport was going to befriend them and show them the sights.
From there you can imagine the sequence of events that follow. Sufficed to say, running and jumping and tense stare downs abound. There are even multiple scenes of Mills madly opening one door after another, only to be disappointed that the heroin-saturated girl being sexually assaulted in the room is not his daughter, hence he is completely indifferent to her plight.
The daughter is of course a naïve virgin, who didn’t know what she was getting into, and really, it is all her slutty friends fault that they get kidnapped anyway. Mills of course has to find her before she can actually be addicted to heroin and sold as a sex slave; because, we just couldn’t have anything bad happen to an adorable little American girl. Everyone else is pretty much fucked, but as long as he saves her, everything is fine. He reminds me a little of John Wayne in The Searchers, he can’t stomach the idea of his little girl losing her virtue, even if it is against her will. I imagine that if she were actually forced to participate in some sort of sexual act, she would probably have to die for the vilification of the audience. Luckily, daddy is able to save the day, and at the end the daughter even gets a chance to fulfill her lifelong dream of becoming a singer, thanks to the bleach blond pop star Liam saves in the first act. Yeah, it’s not enough that he just saves her from a sordid life drug addiction and rape, she has to become the next Brittney Spears, too. (Slutty friend is not so lucky; she dies of a drug overdose in the backroom of an Albanian run French brothel)
This is not to say that this movie is completely without redemption. Despite having little to work with, Neeson’s character is pretty badass. There is one thing driving him, and that one thing is the only thing. There is an abundance of remorseless killing without even the slightest hesitation. At one point he uses electricity to torture information out of a bad guy, and once he knows everything he wants to know, he leaves the juice flowing and walks out of the room. He even shoots the wife of an old contact/buddy in the arm when he doesn’t get a timely answer to his question. And if you’re an annoying American teen there is an especially important underlying message for you—the rest of the world hates you because you’re fucking obnoxious. I guess this message actually applies to pretty much every American traveling abroad, not just the kids. But seriously, fuck the kids.
Even as jaded and bitter as I am, there are still good action movies being produced that actually get an onscreen release. The Bourne movies are pretty good. Unfortunately, the gems are few and far between, and in the interim we are bombarded with crap like the latest Indiana Jones movie, Transfomers, shitty remakes of great horror movies, and things that didn’t really need to happen, like Crank 2:High Voltage.