Unknown movie review

Feb 18, 2011 at 11:49 a.m. ET

In Unknown, Liam Neeson plays a man with everything -- a good job, a beautiful wife (January Jones) -- until he returns from a car accident and no one recognizes him. Someone else is living his life. So is it worth seeing? Does it live up to the standard he set with Taken? We'll let you know.

Unknown opens in theaters this Friday and viewers can be forgiven for saying what I've been hearing over and over. When you mention this film or the name Liam Neeson, people say some form of, "I loved him in Taken! Is this one as good?"

Liam Neeson and January Jones in Unknown

The answer is, no. Now, to be fair, this is a completely different movie. The question is more a function of the amazing performances and direction in the earlier film, and the surprising transformation of an actor in his late fifties into an action star. You have to hand it to the man. Before Taken, did you really think Neeson could get any cooler? The man could already pull off a line like, "Release the kracken!" without making you think of a zillion jokes...well, not right away. Being kick ass on top of that is just icing on the cake.

Getting Unknown

In Unknown, Neeson once again gives a performance that would make Jason Bourne sit up and take notice. He's tough, despite his dilemma. He's strong. He's vulnerable. He does many of his own stunts. However, the movie he graces with this performance just doesn't have the script to support such a gift. Neeson plays Dr. Martin Harris, a man in Berlin with his wife (January Jones) for an environmental conference. He's about to give a speech and change the world with his discovery. He leaves his briefcase at the airport and leaves his wife at the hotel check-in counter to retrieve it. The taxi, driven by a young immigrant (Diane Kruger), gets into a brutal accident that leaves him in a coma. When he wakes up, someone else is living his life. His wife doesn't recognize him. Another man (Aidan Quinn) is using his name. He enlists the help of a former spy (the delightfully creepy Bruno Ganz) and the taxi driver to find out what's going on and get his life back.

Unknown review

Does this feel like a familiar story? Do you just see the twist coming? It's hard to take something seriously when you've seen the same story a zillion times. It's one more suited to a television series that's gone stale. If it were told in a fresh way/if the twist wasn't exactly what you were expecting/if January Jones had even one facial expression during the film, it might be forgivable. But every single moment of dialogue is predictable. That said, it was still a fun ride.

Yes, I know that was a lot of harshness to throw at a film and then say it was fun. What saves the piece is the action and two thirds of its cast. Director Jaume Collet-Serra pulls off a non-stop car race through Berlin that had me on the edge of my seat. His fight scenes were exciting. He cast the smaller roles with some great people. Ganz had me riveted during his scenes, especially later in the film. Quinn fits perfectly into his role, though I can't explain that without giving something away. Kruger looks like she's having a complete blast and has genuine chemistry with Neeson, something Jones can't claim.

I hesitate to be this brutal, but there is really no way around it. January Jones was just terrible. She barely moves her face, she seemingly has no emotion, even during a life or death moment, and her scenes with Neeson were just...creepy. We've seen the thirty-year age difference before but for some reason it was almost unwatchable here. Now Neeson is a super hot man. I'd buy a young woman with him. I believe it was her deadpan expression that killed it. It made those scenes, brief though they were, uncomfortable to watch. After seeing the film, one could argue a reasoning for this if she didn't play the same note throughout the entire story. Her performance is a blot on the film that if removed, could have saved it despite a done-to-death script.

Ultimately, there is no way to avoid the comparisons to Taken, and unfortunately, Unknown doesn't hold up against it. On its own, it's a fun piece of action fluff, with a mostly good cast, that will be out of your head in an hour.

Unknown review

Out of five stars...