Monday, February 23, 2009

So I guess her friend was an orphan, then?

I listen to satellite radio now, but every once in a while I'll switch it over to a couple of the old FM programs and stations I used to listen to, like Morning Becomes Eclectic on KCRW 89.9, or any of the talk shows on KLSX 97.1 to see what's up. It only takes me a couple of minutes to get over that, because that's how long it seems to go before it goes to twenty minutes of commercials or pledge drive bullshit, reminding me why I dumped regular radio. Last week, a local store I was shopping in was playing Heidi, Frosty and Frank on 97.1 where they kept referring to their "last show" coming up on Friday. Turns out the station was dropping the talk format and going Top 40 at the end of the week, and the entire staff was notified about this at the last minute, meaning no more Heidi-Frosty-Frank, no more Tom Leykis, no more Danny Bonaduce, no more Adam Carolla and no more Tim Conway Jr., the last two firings only proving that there's a silver lining to every cloud.

Anyway, I caught the end of Bonaduce's show on my way to the theater, listening to him choke up about how he can't understand how people love him when it's publically known he's a bad husband, a bad guy, etc. He barely had time to say his last goodbyes to the audience before Leykis' show began playing over him. Then I got out of the car and bought a ticket to Taken, the latest film written and produced by Luc Besson.

Notice I didn't say he directed it. That's because homeboy's been writing and producing flicks for others to direct for almost ten years now, keeping a close eye and short leash on the directors during production. I think I might actually like his non-directing movies more than the ones he directed himself. They're a lot more fun and wacky and are made with such an unapologetic disregard for logic, you're required to suspend your disbelief with a crane. You either go with 'em or you don't. I fuckin' go with 'em. What makes Taken different from other Besson productions is that rather than starring Jet Li or Jason Statham, this one is starring a genuine Actor, Liam Neeson. I'm not dissing Li or Statham, those dudes are my bros. I'm just saying that it's kinda cool to see Oskar Schindler/Alfred Kinsey kicking some ass and bringing back some good ol' Darkman memories while he's at it.

Neeson plays an ex-CIA "preventer" who left the game to live near his ex-wife and daughter, now shacked up with some rich dude. At first he comes off a little dorky in that "Dad, you are sooo uncool" sorta way, visiting an electronics store daily to look at a karaoke machine he wants to buy for his little girl's birthday. Slowly but surely though, you start getting hints of his badassitude and realize he's not as meek as he previously came off. He only comes off that way with his daughter, because that's what having kids does to you. Later on, Neeson's buddies from the old days stop by his apartment to kick back, drink some beer, eat some steaks and reminisce about being in The Shit. What I liked was that if this movie was made in the 80's, they would've had a bunch of bodybuilder types play these dudes. But they don't, they get Uncle Rico from Napoleon Dynamite and this other actor who always plays nervous/creepy nerds to play these kill-for-the-government types. If anything, that makes it more realistic, I figure. A lot of these government badasses probably look more like unsuspecting office supervisors from your job, only a lot more physically fit. They don't have Schwarzenegger's muscles or Brad Pitt's looks, but they've certainly left their share of dead and/or tortured bodies at the end of their average workday.

Neeson's ex-wife acts a little cunty toward him, but you can kind of see where she might be coming from. He was hardly around for them while they were married, busy going around the world, probably slicing motherfuckers up or hooking up car batteries to some Derka Derks' testicles, and it probably made the woman kind of sore to spend many a sleepless night expecting a call from Neeson's employers with Bad News. The daughter is kinda alright with him; when he gives her the karaoke machine, she's pretty polite about it, even though you suspect she's probably not too impressed with this circa-1994 model. But then when she sees that her rich stepfather has bought her a pony, she practically drops the fucking thing on the hard ground and goes running for the other gift.

Let's talk about this girl's running style. It's awesome. I couldn't get enough of it, and they unfortunately don't give you enough of it. I'm going to give the actress the benefit of the doubt and guess that the director and Besson told her to run like that, that way she can really convey to the audience that she's playing a 17-year-old Girl. But if this actress actually does run like that, that would be even better and I'd try to raise money for a movie she and Steven Seagal could star in where all they do is run. If you ever see me, I'll gladly demonstrate the run for you, if you ask me to.

So the daughter goes off to Paris to start a European trip with her friend, where they intend to follow U2 on tour. It doesn't take long before they are both snatched up by evil Albanian sex-slave traders and Daddy hears all of this on his cell phone. The trailer I saw for this movie was really cool, because it pretty much only consisted of this one scene; the off-screen kidnapper picks up the cell and Neeson starts talking to him, telling him if he lets his daughter go, nothing will happen and they can all go about their regular lives. But if he doesn't let the girl go, he will find him and kill him, because that's what Neeson does for a living. The kidnapper simply responds with "Good luck" and hangs up. Most trailers give away everything, and this one gives you just enough for you to want to see what happens next, as opposed to waiting to see what you saw in the trailer. Anyway, the hunt is on, and you're basically watching what Jason Bourne or Val Kilmer in Spartan would do if they had to find their kidnapped daughter.

This also could've easily been 24: The Movie. Neeson is very much a Jack Bauer type, his daughter shares the same name as Bauer's daughter, torture and killing come easy to the main character, and Neeson even has a countdown to save his daughter -- 96 hours before she's sold off to some rich foreigner. I think that's a part of why this movie's such a hit. Like 24, this movie allows people to watch an American (albeit one played by an Irishman) throw pussy-ass rules out the window and do what he has to do to get the job done against evil foreigners. Everyone could get behind such a thing -- rich or poor, black or white, liberal or conservative. The difference is that liberals watch that shit in a "it's cool to watch what we could never and should never do" sort of way while conservatives watch that shit like "that's EXACTLY what we should be doing". Plus it appeals to that animal protective-of-our-pack thing we got going on in our nature; you touch a single hair on my little's girl head and I will tear your fucking throat open.

I think a lot of us are like that. Doesn't matter if you're a pacifist and would never commit any kind of physical violence toward someone in real life, most of us probably like to think that we all have the potential of turning into Sonny Corleone, beating the fuck outta the cocksucker who smacked your sister/brother/mother/father/whoever around. Someone once said that deep down all mothers are Jewish mothers, and I like to add to that and say that deep down we're all Italian guidos when it comes to someone giving our family shit.

There's an interesting running theme in this flick, if that's what you can call it. Neeson only cares about finding his daughter, and since that's all he cares about, he passes up opportunities to free other sex slaves he discovers in his mission. The only reason he saves one of the girls is because she's wearing his daughter's jacket and therefore could know something. He's also got an old friend in Paris, a detective or something, and this dude keeps telling him to just go home and they'll handle it. But Neeson knows if he lets him take over, his daughter is as good as gone. We see that his friend has kids of his own, and you know things would be different if they were kidnapped. Later on, one of the bad guys tells Neeson he can understand how he feels because he also has daughters, but he's going to kill him anyway because he can't have homeboy fucking up business, which happens to be selling other people's daughters as sex slaves. I guess the theme is "Not my kid? Not my problem".

I've heard some complaints about how the movie takes a while to get started, and I can see what they mean, but I can't agree. Those 20-30 minutes at the front of the movie contain quite a bit of that Besson goofiness I was talking about, mostly involving the family, stuff that might make your average moviegoer cry out "LAME!". But having watched other Besson fare like the Transporter series and Kiss of the Dragon, not only was I expecting it, but I would've been disappointed if Taken had lacked in that unintentional weirdness and humor. Besides, once the Neeson Punishment Train finally gets rolling, it doesn't stop. It's like they got all the boring/lame stuff out of the way in the first third, so that way you can enjoy an uninterrupted flow of Motherfuckers Getting Owned.

This would make a cool double-feature with Darkman, another flick about Liam Neeson kicking ass. The difference between the main characters is that the Taken dude is more of a straight up no-nonsense type, while Darkman is the closest thing to an Emo superhero we have, right next to Eric Draven from the Crow and Peter Parker in the third Spider-Man. I remember him crying and weeping a lot in that movie. I'm not judging him, hell, if I resembled half-eaten fried chicken that was thrown away, I'd cry a lot too. There are some similarities; both characters have a penchant for not holding up their part of the deal when it comes to letting motherfuckers go after getting info from them. Both movies have scenes where our heroes are listening to an audiorecording of the bad guy saying something on a loop, over and over again; "Good luck" and "That would be...just fine". But there's something Darkman doesn't do that Neeson's character in Taken does do and I'm not giving it away, but I honestly didn't see it coming. I actually went "Oh!" out loud in the fuckin' theater when he did it. There were some gasps from others in the audience, so I wasn't alone and therefore felt less douchey about my reaction. Darkman would never have done what Taken Dude did, he'd probably cry if he saw that shit. Or go into a adrenaline-fueled rage. It's either one or the other with Darkman.

Complaints? I have a few. For one thing, while there's lots of ownage, it's actually a bit too clean, a bit held back. Afterwards, I looked it up online and it turns out this PG-13 movie is actually a watered-down edited version of the original international cut, which is reportedly more hardcore. Since Taken was released in the United States last, that means uncut import versions are available online. It's up to you whether you want to acquire it the legal way or not. Also, I wished they calmed down with some of the shaky-cam shit. That shit's gotta stop. I miss the good ol' days when fight scenes involved communicating to the audience who is hitting who. Last but not least, they really piss away the ending. There's one moment where it could've ended, and it would've been so fuckin' boss if they did. But they don't. So they continue on for another scene, and I'm like okay, they just want to make sure we understand what happened next and that's cool, they can just end it here then. Nope, it goes on for yet one more scene that's really fucking lame.

But flaws aside, Taken is a solid action flick that moves fast and entertains, and that's all you can ask for with this kind of movie. In retrospect, I'd have waited for the eventual unrated DVD, but it was only a $5 matinee and I was left satisfied. On the way home I caught the end of Tom Leykis' last show before his indefinite leave. He ended it by playing a song that he said he heard one day and realized it was all about him and the lyrics expressed everything that he felt. The lyrics pretty much consist of "I'm the Man! I'm the Man! I'm the Man! I'm the Man!", which sounds about right for an egotist like Leykis. I bet you he really does think it's about him, listening and singing along to it in his car and saying "I really am the Man!". Fuckin' rich smug fat-ass wife-beating bastard. God, how I wish I could be him.