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Ridiculous, Like a Sloppy Joe:

Starring Liam Neeson and January Jones

AGE-OLD QUESTION: Can love conquer between this many generations? January Jones and Liam Neeson in ‘Unknown.’ Courtesy photo.

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Liam neeson’s ascension to box office powerhouse is both spectacular and surprising. I’ve been a fan ever since his legendary performance in Sam Raimi’s “Darkman.” He’s such an earnest and likable guy. Even the most ridiculous premise seems plausible with Neeson in the driver’s seat. This is great since “Unknown” is a rather ridiculous movie.

Don’t take that the wrong way. “Ridiculous” isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Without “ridiculous,” we wouldn’t have an apt adjective to describe the films of Nic Cage or the directing style of Michael Bay. I wish more films didn’t take themselves so seriously. Without a certain level of ridiculousness, “Unknown” would have fallen apart faster than a wet piece of single-ply toilet paper.

Neeson plays Doctor Martin Harris, who heads to Berlin to attend a biotechnology conference. In tow is his wife Liz, played by the extremely hot January Jones. At four minutes into the film, we have hit our first moment of utter ridiculousness. I understand that Hollywood films possess a glaring age-gap between the male and female leads. Totally understandable. It’s not uncommon to see a 40-year-old guy paired up with a 22-year-old leading lady, but some movies really push the credibility of the age gap. Case in point: “Entrapment,” which had an almost-70-year-old Sean Connery paired with a barely-30 Catherine Zeta-Jones. “Unknown” feels eerily creepy.

I like Liam Neeson, but seeing him with January Jones on his arm, or getting freaky in a shower, feels a little awkward—like watching your divorced father on the tailend of an epic mid-life crisis, when he’s dating his personal trainer. While we can understand how it happens, it still strains the limits of believability.

Upon arriving to the hotel, Harris realizes that he has left his briefcase at the airport. He hops in a cab and ends up in a crash that leaves him injured and unconscious. Four days later he wakes up and discovers that something has gone horribly wrong. No one seems to know who he is—not even his wife, who is in the arms of another man claiming to be Martin Campbell. Say wwwhhhaaattt?

Harris is alone in a foreign country with a slippery grip on reality. He believes he may be the target of a systematic process of intimidation and manipulation, the likes of which no one has ever seen. In order to reconcile this rather ridiculous premise, he goes looking for answers. First, he seeks out Gina (Diane Kruger), the lovely young cab driver who was with him during the accident. She seems reluctant to cooperate. Then he hires a former East German intelligence agent to do some investigating on his behalf.

Like the plot, the truth is a little hard to swallow. There’s a lot of sinister little twists and turns, but they are all at the expense of logic and common sense. A nefarious group of armed thugs constantly pursue Harris, which does little to defuse his wild conspiracy theories: No one’s going to think you’re an insane paranoid if people are constantly and publicly trying to kill you!

In the hands of a lesser actor, this movie would have been painful. But Liam Neeson just gives so much more than the material deserves. Much like 2008’s “Taken,” Neeson proves that talent can turn a mediocre movie into an entertaining experience. “Unknown” is a second-rate thriller with a first-rate leading man. The rest of the cast feels just better than average. Diane Krueger always manages to bring something to the table. Only January Jones stands out like a sore thumb. Much like the movie, she’s a throwback to another era—a stunning knockout who acts with the depth and range of a dinner-theater reject.

The whole affair feels typical until the third act, where the plot jackknifes into a worthwhile payoff. Cinematic sins committed here are forgivable. Most of the issues are mechanical. There’s no rudder in this ship. The plot is advanced through happenstance. The resolutions are ridiculous, but, under such a thin premise, they are unique enough to feel inspired. Most modern thrillers fall apart in the third act. This one takes on a strange new life as the secrets are revealed. “Unknown” is like a cinematic Sloppy Joe: It’s messy, it disintegrates when tearing into it, but it’s tasty and ultimately satisfying.

Unknown | Movie Trailer | Review

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