Combustible Celluloid
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With: Liam Neeson, Diane Kruger, January Jones, Aidan Quinn, Bruno Ganz, Frank Langella, Sebastian Koch, Olivier Schneider, Stipe Erceg, Rainer Bock, Mido Hamada, Clint Dyer, Karl Markovics, Eva Lbau
Written by: Oliver Butcher, Stephen Cornwell, based on a novel by Didier Van Cauwelaert
Directed by: Jaume Collet-Serra
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for some intense sequences of violence and action, and brief sexual content
Running Time: 113
Date: 02/16/2011

Unknown (2011)

2 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Few Pleasures in 'Unknown'

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

At some point, somebody, perhaps author Didier Van Cauwelaert who wrote the 2003 novel, had a pretty good idea. Maybe he got that idea after watching The Bourne Identity, but no matter. A couple of screenwriters took hold of it, and director Jaume Collet-Serra (House of Wax, Orphan) slowed it down to a crawl, while speeding up the many car chases and fistfights to a difficult-to-follow, fast-cutting frenzy.

It follows Dr. Martin Harris (Liam Neeson), who arrives in Berlin with his wife Liz (January Jones) to participate in an important biotechnology conference. He discovers he has left his briefcase at the airport and hops in a cab to retrieve it. The cab crashes and goes into the river, and Harris goes into a coma. When he wakes up, he tries to re-enter his life, and finds that another man (Aidan Quinn) has taken his place and that his wife does not recognize him. He enlists the aid of the cab driver, a skittish, scrappy illegal immigrant, Gina (Diane Kruger) as well as a former Nazi secret policeman, Ernst Jürgen (Bruno Ganz) to help him figure out what's going on. Unfortunately, mysterious forces are out to stop him from accomplishing this.

In Neeson's previous thriller, Taken, he became an unlikely grown-up action hero and the movie was a hit. In that movie, he was cunning and crafty and working actively to rescue his daughter. In this movie, he's a victim and almost helpless; it fails to recapture the same magic. Director Jaume Collet-Serra spreads the drama out too far and the movie turns sludgy and slow, with the exception of the action scenes, which are choppy and junky, perhaps in an attempt to cover up the lack of logic.

Then comes the twist, which is a good one and has the power to explain even the dumbest plot twist in the movie's first 90 minutes. However it doesn't help with the movie's pacing, lack of character depth, lack of emotional involvement, and over-reliance on dumb, implausible fights and chases. Old-time character actors Ganz and Frank Langella provide a few brief moments of pleasure here and there, but otherwise, this is a dud.

Warner Home Video has released a two-disc Blu-Ray/DVD hybrid set, with a digital copy, but otherwise extras are skimpy. There are only two, generic, 5-minute featurettes. Quality is excellent.

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