Wednesday, February 23, 2011


Every year Hollywood keeps a schedule of releases that rarely deviates. March is a month of movies with limited, but big, demographic potential. May begins the traditional summer blockbuster season. August brings horror. December brings a more eclectic mix of decent to good Hollywood fare. January is chock full of Oscar bait movies. And then there's February.

February is traditionally the month when studios take the movies that they don't have faith in and throw them at unsuspecting, older crowds. People who are sick of being stuck inside on cold and snowy days head out in February for a quick visit for some good old fashioned commercial entertainment. Unfortunately, what they are given is garbage.

Occasionally there are some exceptions to the rule of awful February movies. "Shutter Island" was released in February of last year. While not Scorcese's best work, it was an interesting thriller that some thought might see some Academy love this year. Like "Shutter Island", this year I was hoping that "Unknown" would be another rare February gem.

"Unknown" stars Liam Neeson as Martin Harris, an American in Berlin who loses his identity after a car accident. His wife, played by January Jones, doesn't recognize him and she appears to be married to a completely different man that claims to also be Martin Harris, and has the credentials to prove it. Neeson then spends the majority of the film running around Berlin trying to prove that he is the real Martin Harris.

It sounds like a Hitchcock thriller, except Hitchcock would have never made such a rotten movie. It's not bad directing, necessarily, by director Jaume Collet-Serra that really ruins this movie, althgouh it's nothing to write home about. It is, however, a pretty bad script by Oliver Butcher and Stephen Cornwell. For instance, when Neeson's character first encounters his wife after waking from a 4 day coma, he is shocked that she doesn't know him. But the script has Neeson telling his wife, "You're embarassing me," which seems to be the last thing any man fresh from a coma and concerned for his wife would be thinking if in that situation. And while there's a way to explain why he isn't more upset by the situation, it doesn't help the plot.

Neither Neeson nor the director help the movie out with their talents. Neeson seems to be phoning in a good portion of the film, and Collet-Serra is no Hitchcock. You never really feel there is any danger to Neeson, even when strange men are following him and trying to kill him. The director has no sense of how to build tension. Instead, you're left wondering why the characters make such idiotic choices when there are much more obvious ones.

But what sticks out the most is the bad storytelling by the screenwriters. There far too many coincidences to be believable. Just barely crossing paths with the bad guys, seeing people out of the corner of their eye just at just the right moment, and the ease with which Neeson's character, who has supposedly never been to Berlin, can maneuver through the city, even though he can't speak German.

The twist ending is alright, but it doesn't ring very true. I won't give it away, but if you see it perhaps you'll understand. The director and screenwriters had a wonderful opportunity for a truly dark, original ending, but they go with the standard Hollywood nonsense instead.

"Unknown" is the only movie I will see this February. It's month of real lousy stuff. Unfortunately, "Unknown" had a chance to be a break-out February movie with a unique concept, but it doesn't have the right talent involved to truly make it work.

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