Special ID (Tè Shū Shēn Fèn, 特殊身份): an undercover cop finds himself in danger when he’s set on a collision course with an old protégé. Tonally, this film is an absolute mess; there’s Loony Tunes style moments of slapstick comedy in the middle of realistic MMA-Style fight scenes; despite it being a big-budget movie with slick intentions it continually returns to the super-cheese with bawdy music and silly melodramatic over-acting; there’s also a few sleep-inducingly boring scenes (one about Tattoos in particular). The timeline is all over the place, jumping around with no explanation, unaided by the lax direction and editing. There’s some woeful Volvo product placement: not satisfied with having their ‘City Safety’ mode blatantly pimped, there’s an entire fight scene AROUND THEIR CAR – it also doesn’t blow up when it’s dropped from height, unlike those rubbish Land Rovers!!! Ppsschhhtt!!! On the plus side, the action is generally impressive (particularly the two elongated fights at either end of the movie) despite some superhuman abilities being thrown in to the mix here and there. I love Donnie Yen and will watch anything he’s in, but he’s going for a Jackie Chan style cheeky-chappy role here, and doesn’t quite have the charm/charisma to nail it. In the end, this is amounts to little more than another completely forgettable Asian undercover cop film – with two decent fight scenes.
Taken 2: Bryan Mills and his ‘very particular set of skills’ are hunted down by the relatives of the bad guys from Paris (Taken). If Mr Megaton had stuck to the surefire winning formula of the first film, he’d have been OK, however, he strays way off topic. Action, drama and no-brain story: 66% – this is far to silly to have any sense of drama or threat. Hard-hitting fight-scenes: 33% – my beloved, worn-down, Taken DVD is 18-rated, this was a 12A, with all of the bloody bone-crunching edges are taken off. Liam Neeson acting well: – 15% – he totally looks like he can not be arsed here, as do most of the cast. A brief list of the memorable moments tell you more about the tone of the film that any sensible review could:
- Maggie Grace gratuitously running around in a Bikini
- Maggie Grace – having not passed her driving test – executing perfect evasive/offensive driving
- Maggie Grace throwing grenades on Istanbul roofs so Neeson can locate her.
- Neeson being left in a room, alone, for a long time
- Neeson having a mini-phone in his pocket
- Neeson walking through Istanbul navigating using only his ears.
Overall, it feels like far more like a “Shit, we accidentally got a worldwide hit from a B-movie – may as well cash-in with a rushed sequel” affair, over a well-thought out, original, nasty, well done action flick. All that being said, Taken 2 is nowhere near as bad as the critics have made it out to be, there’s more than enough mindless action scenes to keep audiences entertained.
Safe House: a neglected CIA rookie sees a chance to prove himself when his safe house is attacked and he’s left to protect & contain a notorious rogue agent. Both Denzel and Reynolds are on good form, although neither’s particularly stretched given what they can do, it’s definitely easy money. In saying that, having these two does mean the characters are a bit deeper than standard action stars would be. The focus here is on straight-up, balls-to-the-wall action – about 1/2 the runtime is chase, shootout or fighting scenes, which makes for some great popcorn gawking. There are a couple of ultra-shaky cam moments where they’d have been better drawing black and white stick men hitting each other, but for the most part the action’s alright to follow. Unfortunately, this doesn’t put much thought on the plot, the story is the definition of unambitious and you can predict everything from the initial set up, right down to the final scene. Safe House may not be a particularly engaging or deep movie: “Post Bourne entry political thriller” just about sums this up, but with its eyes firmly fixed on the CrashBangWallop, it delivers ample in this department.
Infernal Affairs / 無間道: the Hong Kong triads have inserted a loyal mole into the police force, who themselves have an undercover officer in the same gang – which cover will get blown first? As soon as it starts you can tell that this is simply great storytelling; it’s not dumbed down, there’s no filler and most interestingly, very little shooting/action for a cop-gangster film. The scenes where both sides are simultaneously involved are truly heart-pounding – even after seeing this and the re-make several times each. Maximising the espionage, tension and suspicion this grips you like an anaconda for the entirety, and doesn’t let go until the final scene. The police mole also throws up an interesting moral dilemma in the final third of the movie. None of the highly-watchable central actors put a foot wrong, with solid performances from the who’s who in Hong Kong cast – the only rubbish character is the ridiculous, annoying girlfriend that should have been written out. Until recently, you knew that a foreign film was decent when Hollywood re-made it – sure The Departed is brilliant, but is essentially this with a 60 minute longer runtime. Infernal Affairs is better than decent, it’s better than brilliant, it is the gold standard of police dramas. Absolute must-see.