Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Fri Feb 13, 2009 5:57 pm 
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Bad Bourne

Ex-CIA operative Bryan Mills (Liam Neeson) used to specialize in stopping bad things from happening--expertly, we're to assume. Now he's retired to California to be near his daughter Kim (Maggie Grace). That's a project, because Kim lives with Bryan's not-at-all-friendly ex-wife Lenore (Framke Jenson), and a very rich and generous stepfather, in an L.A. palace. When he appears at a grandiose birthday party at the house for the girl, it's clear he's not very welcome.

Kim wangles a trip to Europe with a girlfriend. Bryan, whose permission is required because she's only 17, doesn't like the idea at all. It ain't safe over there for a young American. Bryan's carer has taught him paranoia. He sees terrorists and perverts and all around bad guys everywhere, especially over in the Old Europe. Besides that, Kim is a virgin, and 17. Two essential setups for the plot, because giving his permission involves Bryan in the trip, and her being a virgin--well, see if your mind is paranoid enough to figure out what that means. Kim lies and begs and jumps up and down (Grace's performance consists mostly of jumping, acting terrified and comatose, then jumping again when it's all safely over). Bryan gives in reluctantly and signs a release.

But boy, was Bryan right. The minute Kim and her girlfriend arrive in Paris, they're kidnapped. It happens, in the manner of modern movies, when she's on her cellphone talking to Bryan. Then he makes the speech that is repeated in the trailers in which he instructs her to hide under a bed, and then get caught. I guess she can't jump out the window, the way he could.

And soon does, when he rushes over to Paris to rescue Kim and track down and on-the-spot execute the kidnappers. How he finds out they are Albanian slave traders and pimps and how he is in their lair threatening them in 24 hours or less is something you will more or less learn if you see the movie. Only more or less, because it's all a game, really, if a very violent one, and the connective tissue of the plot is frequently missing.

Taken is an excellent thrilling nonstop adrenaline-pumping exhilarating movie starring the accomplished Neeson. It's also a dumb unbelievable bigoted collection of disgustingly cruel scenes whose heavy-handed plot elements show utter contempt for the audience's intelligence. That might seem what we deserve for going to such a film just because it stars a man who convincingly played Oscar Schindler and Alfred Kinsey, Rob Roy and Michael Collins. At fifty-seven (and looking every minute of it) he also might just be a bit old for dropping rooms-full of bloodthirsty Albanians and heavily armed Saudis, jumping from building to building and outwitting the Paris police force, were he in real life actually to carry out such exploits in the few days during which all this happens. If that matters. This dubious aspect to the casting of the lead merely starts off the list of stunningly implausible details. Following the gospel according to Daniel Craig (his image, that is), macho action stars don't have to be suave or good looking. Do they have to have the physical conditioning and stamina to make ultra-physical action plausible? The makers of the Bourne franchise movies think so. That's why they've wisely cast the very fit, muscular, and still young Matt Damon in the role. But this is bad Bourne. Very bad Bourne. Unlike the Bournes' Paul Greenglass, Pierre Morel proves to be an efficient but mechanical director with very little flair.

You're not supposed to notice that casting incongruity. Neeson is a bit old for an action star, but he's still erect, tall (6'4", actually) and elegant. He carries himself with cool confidence. It all slides by fast--too fast, finally, to remember much but the despicableness of the villains and the ruthless murderousness of the avenging CIA agent/dad. Pierre Morel, a French cameraman and cinematographer who broke into directing with the crackerjack B-Hollywoodish Paris ghetto action flick District 13 (Banlieue 13), has teamed up again with Euro shlockmeister Luc Besson, made a good movie out of this--well, except for the dumb writing. Even in actioners, writing is important. Note the interesting identity theme that unites the Bourne stories and their inspired use of breakneck location shifts. Following the S/X-free style of Morel's Parkour sequences in 13, Taken doesn't have a lot of state-of-the-art fakery, though its car chase scenes come early and often and totally without dramatic necessity. Mainly, what damns the whole effort is that the storytelling in is crude and obvious and full of holes, and the thinking is nasty.

This is a choice of which Neeson ought to be ashamed. And, as we shall see if we watch through to the end, it is another addition to Jack Shaheen's book Real Bad Arabs: How Hollywood Vilifies a People. Because the Albanians are scumbags, but the absolutely most despicable villains are the Arabs at the end who actually purchase the young virgins to indulge their vile sexist lusts. But no matter: Bryan kills them all, every one. He kills anybody who gets in his way too, even just people whose cars he needs for a chase scene. The mindless brutality of this film is, well, mind-boggling. And it all goes to reinforce jingoistic ideas that Americans are at war with "evil", and more or less with all the rest of the world, and anybody who gets in their way, including the Paris police force. And all to protect our dumb naive spoiled teenage rich girl virgins.

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