Notable Cast: Liam Neeson, Diane Kruger, January Jones, Aidan Quinn, Frank Langella
Review: I’m starting to see a career trend for Liam Neeson involving starring in one word titled action thrillers. Taken was a pleasant surprise, showcasing that Liam Neeson could actually be pretty badass, but Unknown does nothing to further that notion. As simply as I can put it, Unknown is a combination of recycled scenes from other similar genre films of its type all rolled into one “new” package. Unknown tries to take us on a psychological thrill ride that promises an action packed punch, but Neeson is nowhere near his ass kicking Taken self and the film moves much slower than expected. More effort is emphasized in the psychological thrills, but any tension falls flat. Managing to get through Unknown is more of a chore than it should have been, so don’t believe the hype posting this as one of the “greatest action thrillers in years.” In no way does this top Taken, but it sure tries.
Martin Harris (Neeson) arrives with his wife Liz (Jones) in Berlin for a biotechnology summit where he is to give a speech. Upon arrival at the hotel, Dr. Harris realizes his briefcase has been left at the airport, so he hails a taxi and sets off. During his trip though, a loosely packed truck sets events in motion that end up causing his taxi to careen of a bridge and plummet into a river. He’s saved by his taxi driver (Kruger), but at the hospital receives the information that he’s been in a coma for 4 days, and is expected to have serious side effects concerning memory loss and confusion. Dr. Harris barely musters enough information to figure out who he is, but signs himself out of the hospital to reunite with his wife back at the hotel. When he arrives, he’s greeted with quite the shock though. His wife has no recollection of who he is, any documentation of his existence appears to have been erased, and there is now a completely different person claiming to be Dr. Martin Harris. This mystery man’s picture is now connected with the name Martin Harris everywhere, and Neeson’s character now looks like just someone suffering from complete and total memory loss. It’s up to the real Martin Harris to trace back every step he made and figure out why or how there is some impostor taking over his life.
The mediocrity…ohhh the mediocrity! Credit Neeson for trying to ride his action momentum from Taken, but some parts of Unknown felt like they were pushing the “action hero of her time” vibe way too far. They had Neeson spouting out lines of “quotable” dialogue as if he was Aronld screeching “GET TO DA CHOPPA” or Willis’ classic “Yippie Kay Yay M*other F#&ker.” You know, one of those lines that just gets associated with manliness and are a staple for action heroes? Well, Neeson’s one liners were so laughably atrocious they’ll probably be remembered for the complete opposite reason that the writers wrote them. “I didn’t forget everything. I remember how to kill you…asshole.” Really? I was fine until asshole honestly, the beginning being a pretty well-fitting one liner quote. But why did we have to throw a random curse word on there? To seem more buff and hero type? It went from “Oh Neeson, you crazy bastard” to a big heaping serving of rank, odoriferous, gnarly Limburger cheesetacticness. It was an ultimate fail all around trying to make Dr. Martin Harris into a bona-fide action star, more sadly working as a parody of one.
I wasn’t kidding about Unknown being generic beyond belief. The pacing of the film felt like every time the writers ran out of ideas, they threw a wrench in the machine just to turn it another direction. Now, I’m all for psychological thrillers and mind melting adventures, but only when done right. By right I mean well thought out, shocking, surprising, or any other way of being taken aback. To properly mind bone you, a movie should hit you with a twist you can’t see coming or take you somewhere completely new. This was the obvious ultimate goal for the action thriller, but it never hits that moment where your mind is spinning from an explosion of grandiose story telling. Unknown was following an obvious path from the start, and treated each new turn like a freakin’ twist from Inception. Point A, Point B, Point C, but the dots are connected on the way to B. It’s basically like starting one of those puzzles, only to find it takes one piece to put the entire puzzle together. What kind of challenge is that, and where is the fun? Nowhere really, as you helplessly hope there will be some redemption coming in the form of acting or intensity.
My description may be painting a much harsher negative image than Unknown really deserves, but it gets what it has coming to it. As I said, it was nothing but a way to spend about 2 hours. My advice? Don’t bother catching this one in theaters. Wait for some second-rate cable station like TNT to pick this guy up and play the crap out of it for an entire month. Imagine Taken, but instead of Neeson running around screaming about his daughter, he’s screaming about his wife, with a lot less face punching. Liam Neeson is no Arnold, no Stallone, no Statham, no Rock; but not a Paul Walker at least. Unknown falls much more into the thriller category than a full-out action film like some misleading trailers make you think. If you’re a die-hard Neeson fan there’s enough to keep you interested. If you’re looking for a fresh story, pop in a favorite, no matter how many times you’ve seen it, and it’ll still be more refreshing than this. All and all, the title says a lot about where your memories of this movie will be in years to come…Unknown.
Final Rating: 5.5 times Liam Neeson loses a family member out of 10