Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Movie Reviews – Looper and Taken 2

  I went to see the movie Looper the weekend before last. I’ve always liked time travel movies and seeing one starring Bruce Willis was an extra treat. Willis has been in a number of excellent science fiction movies (Fifth Element, Armageddon, 12 Monkeys, Unbreakable, Sixth Sense) and is Arnold Schwarzenegger’s main rival as his generation's top science fiction star.

  The premise of Looper is that in the future murder is impossible to get away with because of tracking devices that are implanted in all humans, so in order to eliminate their victims, the mob of the 2070’s uses time travel to send their victims to the economically distressed and mutated world of 2044, where they have set up a network of executioners called ‘Loopers’. The victims of the future are bound, hooded, and sent to 2044 where the Loopers execute them and dispose of the bodies well out of the reach of the future’s tracking devices. The Loopers don’t even have to wait to be paid, since their victims are loaded down with bars of silver as payment for services rendered.

  This is all explained naturally in the beginning of the course of the movie by Joseph Gordon-Levitt who plays Joe the Looper as a fairly unlikeable drug addict thug who is very happy heading to a cornfield every so often to execute someone and make his nightly jaunt to the nightclub to purchase a lap dance or more from an occasionally topless Piper Perabo of Covert Affairs fame. Eventually the Loopers are assigned to execute themselves to ‘close their loop’. When they kill their future selves they receive a payment of gold and are allowed to leave the ‘Looper’ profession and enjoy the rest of their lives (until their execution).

  All is well with Joe until his loop is closed and he meets his future self (Bruce Willis), who was only pretending to be bound. Willis escapes his past self and sets out to kill the past self of the mob kingpin who arranged for the murder of his wife in order to prevent her from being killed in the first place, while Gordon-Levitt needs to kill his future self in order to prevent the mob from eliminating his future self by killing his current self (Gordon-Levitt).

  It sounds convoluted when I explain it, but the movie makes it very understandable and a natural part of the plot. Willis and Gordon-Levitt play off each other incredibly well as past, current, and future selves with their own selfish agendas. Gordon-Levitt just wants to kill his future self while not getting killed himself while Willis tracks down the future mob boss and keep not only himself alive, but also keep his past self in one piece so he can keep his future intact.

  Looper did a great job of explaining the paradox of time-travel without getting too deep into it and the action and plot was tense throughout. While the latter part of the movie is centered in a Kansas farmhouse, Willis provides plenty of action as he tries to wipe out the mob. The ending was as sudden as it was shocking and given the development of the characters throughout the movie, made a lot of sense. If you can get past the abundant cursing and one Perabo topless scene, this is a unique film and a must see when it hits the Redbox if not sooner.

  Last weekend I went to see the long awaited Taken 2. I had written 2 weeks ago how much I liked the first Taken movie, more because of the timeless dialog rather than the great action scenes. The new Taken has Liam Neeson (ex black ops agent Bryan Mills) in Istanbul for a short term security assignment when he is joined by his ex-wife Lenore (who is separated from her husband from the first movie) and his daughter Kim (who was taken in the first movie).

  It seems like the perfect vacation to help Mills reunite with his ex-wife and help his daughter deal with her ordeal from the first movie. But unbeknownst to Mills, he and his family are being stalked by a group of Albanians from the little town of Tropojë, home to the kidnapping and sex trafficking ring that Mills single handedly wiped out in the first movie. The new group is led by the father of the kidnapper Mills left tied to a chair wired to the electrical system. This new villain is played by Rade Šerbedžija, a dead ringer for the ‘Most Interesting Man in the World’ from the Don Equus commercials.

  The sequel has Mills and his wife being taken instead of his daughter, but since the Albanians want him to see his daughters fate, he manages to stay alive until he can communicate detailed instructions to his daughter on how to locate him and get him a gun, which he uses to escape from his captors and rescue his daughter while his wife is taken again. Eventually everyone is rescued,the Albanians are killed, and the family returns to the relative normalcy of Los Angeles living.

  While the film could stand on its own as a reasonably good action movie, it is just a poor cousin to the first Taken movie. Where the first movie has memorable dialog the second movie settles for Mills yelling at his daughter to ‘keep going’, ‘go faster’ or ‘get down’ at least 2 dozen times during the signature car chase through the narrow Istanbul streets while avoiding the police and the Albanians. The first movie had Mills pretending to be a john, a waiter, and a crooked cop on the take in order to get the information he needed to find his daughter, while in the sequel Mills depends primarily on his fists and weapons, and only outwits his enemies in the clever way he helps his daughter find him by bombarding the rooftops of Istanbul with hand grenades so he can help her locate him and by the way he finds his wife by using his memories of what he heard when they were taken hostage earlier.

  I knew when I went to Taken 2 that it was probably not going to meet the high standards of the iconic first film so I wasn’t surprised when it didn’t come close. It was a fun movie to watch because I enjoyed seeing Liam Neeson reprise the Bryan Mills character, very much like I always watched the ‘Death Wish’ films since I knew I’d be seeing Charles Bronson in his classic role no matter how predictable the movie would be (being Charles Bronson’s girl in a Death Wish movie was always a part time job at best). Taken 2 is a good enough movie, but if you are just hopping on the ‘Taken’ bandwagon, you may as well wait for it to show up at the Redbox or the Wal-Mart $5 bin.