Movie Review - Unknown (***)

UNKNOWN.  113 mins.  PG-13.  Directed by Jaume Collet-Serra.  Written by Oliver Butcher & Stephen Cornwell.
Liam Neeson’s character may not know who he really is in the new action thriller, Unknown, but I do.  He’s Jason Bourne.  How else to explain the fact that key storylines and plot twists are cribbed directly from the Bourne trilogy?  Unknown is a shamelessly derivative B-movie that gives adult moviegoers an excuse to head out to the movies on a Saturday night.  While it lacks originality, it does do a good job of further perfecting the formula that made 2009’s Taken such a surprise hit.  Liam Neeson kicking ass + European setting = action nirvana.
Neeson plays Dr. Martin Harris (emphasis on the Dr. – the character certainly throws that prefix out there whenever possible), who falls into a 4-day coma after a freak car accident while vacationing abroad.  When he awakes and goes back to the hotel to meet his wife (the icy cool January Jones, showing no signs of life…or talent), she acts like she doesn’t know him.  Complicating matters is the fact that another Dr. Martin Harris has assumed his identity, and some shady locals are out to kill him. Is he crazy, or is everyone else in on something?  And why is he so adept at beating people up when the situation calls for it?
See?  I told you it was The Bourne Identity.  As the plot holes widen and the unsurprising twists unspool, Unknown threatens to go off the rails, but it never does.  Neeson holds the whole enterprise together, with his authoritarian presence.  He’s an imposing figure on screen, and even though he’s in his late ’50s, you never doubt that he’s capable of doing all the things he does here.  Thankfully, he is paired with the wonderful Diane Kruger (last seen in Inglourious Basterds) for most of the film’s running time, and not January Jones.  Seriously, I get that she’s pretty and all, but – Mad Men accolades aside – she is a terrible actress.
As if by contractual requirement, there is a well-orchestrated, intense car chase in the middle of the movie.  I liked watching it (I always do love a good car chase), but by now, we’ve seen so many of its ilk (in movies like Ronin and, yes, here we go again – the Bourne trilogy) that unless the chase is really well done, it just sort of blends in with the rest of the action scenes.  That’s the case here.  Director Jaume Collet-Serra’s last film was Orphan, and Unknown is a marked improvement, but the bluish-gray color scheme that permeates the film too often cools the audience’s blood pressure instead of heating it up.  Leave it to Neeson then to get everybody all hot and bothered again – when Neeson goes into action overdrive, the bloodlust is palpable, eliciting squeals of joy every time a bad guy gets his due.  

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Tags: film, Liam Neeson, movies, reviews, Unknown

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