Back Rowe Reviews
Real Time Movie Reviews from the Back Row of a Theater

February 2015

Wild (R)

Directed by: Jean-Marc Vallee
Starring: Reese Witherspoon
December 2014

This review was originally tweeted in Real-time from the back row of a movie theater and appears @BackRoweReviews. Though efforts were made to tease rather than ruin this movie’s memorable lines and moments, some spoilers may exist in the following evaluation. The original tweets appear in black, while follow-up comments appear in red. For concerns over objectionable content, please first refer to one of the many parental movie guide websites. All ratings are based on a four star system. Happy reading!

Or sandals with duct tape. Hiker’s choice.

Loosing a toenail is painful. Loosing a shoe is devastating. Not a promising beginning.
The film does a great job of beginning right in the middle of the action…a tried-and-true guideline for good writing.

Walk a thousand miles? Piece of cake.
I mean, Forrest Gump ran from one coast to the other.

Reese wrestles with her mondo backpack. It has her pinned for a moment, but she prevails in the end. #CloseCall
There comes a point when too much planning is counterproductive.

No wonder Reese’s backpack is as big as she is, she’s lugging around journals and poetry books. #TravelLight
What she really needed was a book on how to pack light. Oops…more space.

Always bring the right fuel.

Divorce tattoos. Hmm. I thought the idea was to move on from the other person not to be constantly reminded of them.
I’ve never heard of this before and it seems a bit ridiculous. But to each his/her own.

Don’t get stuck in a rock crevasse, Reese. Learn from James Franco’s mistake.
She had me worried for a moment. Getting wedged in a rock outcropping would’ve changed the whole tone/theme of the film though. And not for the better.

“Seriously, you have no Snapple in that pack?” Nope, just the kitchen sink.
Actually, her backpack is about the size of a sink.

Pruning time. Lose the library and the...prophylactics? 12 of them? How much action was she expecting on the trail?
I understand that women have expanded awareness (thank you, John Gray) and that they always like to be prepared (like any good Boy Scout), but the inclusion of this item baffles me. Was she planning on humping a cactus? Or worse still…a coyote?

Find your best self.
A tad Hallmark-ish, but a nice reminder/sentiment just the same.

“Here’s to a young girl all alone in the woods.” Reese encounters the most dangerous predator...a horny redneck.
The rattlesnake doesn’t even come close to rivaling this threat.

Queen of the PCT. It’s better than Jane.
PCT = Pacific Crest Trail, locus for the majority of the film’s action. Jane = Tarzan’s mate, referenced earlier in the movie.

The polite boy is adorable.
And has a nice singing voice to boot.

Reese finds forgiveness at the Bridge of the Gods.
Self-forgiveness. The hardest kind to accept.

Final analysis: a well told journey of self-discovery and redemption, with some gorgeous scenery.

3 out of 4. This emotionally, physically demanding role brought out the best in Witherspoon. Wild about it!

The premise here is pretty straightforward: a survival plot with a spiritual journey subplot. Though the progression of incidents makes the story fairly predictable, a few minor twists along the way add variety and intensity to the laser like through line. What breaks up the formulaic narrative is a series of flashbacks which fill in the gaps of Cheryl Strayed’s (Reese Witherspoon) tumultuous life leading up to her fateful decision to set out on a thousand mile schlep across the California desert. If the film has any art, it’s achieved during these dreamlike reflections that pop into Reese’s mind at random intervals during her trek. Wild is based on the book of the same name, which is based on the actual events of the brazen journey Strayed embarked upon in 1995. It’s hard to know if any other actor could’ve portrayed Strayed as effectively, but there can be no doubt that Reese pulls off the part…which is somewhat surprising since, thematically speaking, it’s a million miles away from Legally Blonde (2001). This role is quite a departure from the typical dolled up, good girl part Reese has played in many of her previous movies, so kudos to her for getting in touch with her inner Annie Oakley. Although much of the movie centers on Strayed’s often arduous attempts at negotiating her way through physical and emotional wastelands, she does encounter several people along the way (played by Thomas Sadoski, Gaby Hoffmann, Kevin Rankin and Cliff De Young) who provide her with valuable wisdom and resources. The standout supporting performance comes from Laura Dern, who plays Strayed’s mother, Bobbi. Bobbi’s bright, beaming face belies the inner pain she experiences from her bought with a terminal illness. Though her screen time is limited here, Dern, whose heartfelt portrayal is humbling and inspiring, has garnered an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actress. Perhaps it’s the fish-out-of-water, against type casting, but Reese has also received a nod in the leading female category. All things considered, this film isn’t earth-shattering, but it is gritty, flawed and genuine, much like its central character. Though many of us will never attempt such a challenging journey, we can live vicariously through Strayed’s incredible accomplishment by watching this movie from the comfort of a theater or our own living room. Unless someday we get a wild hair to have a wilderness excursion of our own.

Kingsman: The Secret Service (R)

Directed by: Matthew Vaughn
Starring: Colin Firth
February 2015

This review was originally tweeted in Real-time from the back row of a movie theater and appears @BackRoweReviews. Though efforts were made to tease rather than ruin this movie’s memorable lines and moments, some spoilers may exist in the following evaluation. The original tweets appear in black, while follow-up comments appear in red. For concerns over objectionable content, please first refer to one of the many parental movie guide websites. All ratings are based on a four star system. Happy reading!

Kingsman-The Secret Service
Firth won the Academy Award for Best Actor for The King’s Speech (2010). What does that have to do with this film? Nothing, other than the fact that they both have “King” in the title.

A surprise cameo from a galaxy far, far away.
He’s an over-the-pond professor who did his doctoral thesis on “The Multiplicative Capabilities of Interconnected Moisture Vaporators.” It was released in book form by Tosche Press.

#SamuelLJackson with a lisp is a hoot.
I know it’s mean-spirited to laugh at a person with a lisp, but Jackson’s delivery makes it impossible to keep a straight face.

Holo-glasses...a nifty invention.

“Manners maketh the man.” Firth teaches some thugs a lesson. An exciting fight scene.
And more than a little unbelievable. But it’s also a lot of fun, which is all that matters, I suppose. Correction: “Manners maketh man.”

Amnesia darts would come in handy.
Sometimes a self-inflicted amnesia dart would be helpful.

“Like in
My Fair Lady.” Hilarious!
This is the scene where I knew we had a runaway romp on our hands. Flawless comedic timing.

This elevator ride reminds me of the Haunted House ride at #Disneyland.
Without the silly vertical wall paintings.

The body bag initiation puts things into perspective.

There’s no name for the Chinese “thecret thervice.” I’m dying!
Easily one of the funniest scenes in the movie.

Choose a dog...but choose wisely.
At least he didn’t select a Chihuahua.

The skydiving scene is as pulse-pounding as they come.
This was an extremely well executed action sequence that makes you feel like you’re free-falling right along with the rest of the characters.

“Give me a far fetched theatrical plot any day.” Here, here.
Movies with overblown, hyper real action scenes and melodramatic villains have their own unique charm.

Jackson and Firth share a “happy” meal.
Wonder who got to keep the toy.

Fitting Room 3. Bond’s Q would be envious.
Actually, he’s probably the one who invented all of these weapons and devices.

The three J.B.s scene is amusing.
No, one of them isn’t James Brown. Or Josh Brolin. Or Justin Bieber. Gag!

Brutal, protracted fight scene in a Kentucky church.
In truth, it was too long and too bloody for my taste. And how many bullets does Firth’s gun carry anyway…50?

“This ain’t that kind of movie.” Clearly not, from what happens next.
Remember this line. It comes back around to bite Jackson in the ath.

Reconnecting the satellite link. I’m literally biting my fingernails.

OMG! The head exploding sequence is probably the funniest macabre scene I’ve ever seen.
Sometimes, when something strikes my funny bone just right, I just start laughing uncontrollably. This sequence had that effect on me; like I’d inhaled a deep lungful of laughing gas.

Final analysis: the best un-Bond movie ever, with incredible action scenes and humor to spare.

3 out of 4 stars. I haven’t laughed this hard in the theater in quite some time.

I must admit that this film took me by surprise. I knew it was going to be an action packed spy flick (based on the comic book “The Secret Service”), but I had no idea it would have laugh-a-minute hilarity to go along with its thrill-a-minute intensity. Though belonging to an altogether different narrative universe, this film reminds me of last year’s Guardians of the Galaxy, which was a very effective mixture of humor and action. That formula works like magic here on a story that boasts a truly unique spin on the by-now hackneyed sub-genre of spy thriller. This might look like a spy movie spoof, but looks can be deceiving—like the dressing rooms inside a particular London tailor shop. This film is actually more like an alternate reality version of a MI6 mission—it’s what a Bond movie would look like if it were directed by Robert Rodriguez. As would be expected, Colin Firth, Michael Caine, Samuel L. Jackson and Mark Strong are all superb in their roles, but it’s really youngster, Taron Egerton, who steals the show as Firth’s protégée and Kingsman initiate, Eggsy (no, it’s not a typo). Egerton plays Eggsy with a chip on his shoulder, but also infuses him with just enough good-natured irreverence and boyish charm to make him appealing to the audience. Kudos goes to director Matthew Vaughn (X-Men: First Class) for prohibiting his action sequences (with the exception of the church debacle) from running away with the movie. The character development is fairly shallow here, and yet we’re still fully invested in what happens to them, which is somewhat of an anomaly for a contemporary action film. The real star of the movie is the screenplay, written by Vaughn and Jane Goldman. The dialog is razor sharp and witty beyond compare. The story skillfully pokes fun at the spy genre without outright lampooning it. It’s also a well crafted yarn that includes several gobsmacking plot twists. The only caveat here is that the film might be offensive to some viewers (e.g., the pervasive foul language, inappropriate sexual references and mass killings inside a church). The parenthetical items notwithstanding (and lest we forget, this is a Rated R film), this is the most hilarious thrill ride that’s graced the silver screen in quite some time. So has this movie done enough to garner a sequel…or a franchise? In a word, yeth.

Jupiter Ascending (PG-13)

Directed by: The Wachowskis
Starring: Channing Tatum
February 2015

This review was originally tweeted in Real-time from the back row of a movie theater and appears @BackRoweReviews. Though efforts were made to tease rather than ruin this movie’s memorable lines and moments, some spoilers may exist in the following evaluation. The original tweets appear in black, while follow-up comments appear in red. For concerns over objectionable content, please first refer to one of the many parental movie guide websites. All ratings are based on a four star system. Happy reading!

Jupiter Ascending

Failure agrees with you. Ah, brotherly love.
Ok, I’m just gonna’ come right out and say it…Eddie Redmayne is creepy weird in this movie. His Botox lip job speech was probably intended to give him a tough guy, Marlon Brando in The Godfather vibe, but this character quirk just looks awkward and bizarre. In The Theory of Everything, Redmayne played a character that was in pain but doesn’t show it…here he looks like he’s in pain but isn’t.

“Urges and obligations.” The death of romance.
Yeah, talk about a gigantic buzz kill.

Tatum takes out some grays. Exciting action scene.
The first time around, anyway. Redmayne’s instant replay is redundant and anticlimactic.

Tatum and Kunis encounter trouble on the beam up.

“Sharing has never been a strong suit of your species.” Sad, but true.
No, you can’t have any of my popcorn.

Jupiter is kidnapped in a cornfield by bounty hunter scum.
This scene reminded me a lot of Signs (2002). A far superior film to this one.

Now we know where crop circles come from.
As if there was any doubt…after seeing Signs.

“Where do you get those lightbulbs?” Was that a pickup line?
Are light bulbs the new code word for melons?

“I will never complain about the DMV ever again.” No kidding. These people are as anal as the Vogons.
By comparison, this movie makes The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (2005) look like the finest sci-fi story ever written.

Jupiter drops a vial. Way to go, you just killed 100 people.
Their essence is spilled all over the deck floor. Talk about wasting already ignominious deaths.

Dino warriors drop in for dinner.
Funny, they didn’t even touch the salad.

The elephant guy at the helm made me chuckle.
I wonder why we’ve never seen an elephant-like alien before in any other sci-fi movie. Maybe because it’s utterly ridiculous looking.

Jupiter is buried in a complex inside Jupiter’s eye. A little too on the nose?
Or tongue in cheek? Or self-indulgent, cutesy writing?

Tatum takes his jacket off. Wait a minute, I didn’t know he was Birdman.
As bizarre as Birdman is at times, at least it has a chance of winning an Oscar.

Final analysis: an ambitious project that ends up being an uninspired knockoff of
The story galaxy trots and introduces us to many people on different planets who have little to say and even less impact on the story…a cheap imitation of Frank Herbert’s masterwork of sci-fi literature. This star tour does little to advance the plot and actually makes it bog down with predictable reactions to common situations, all held together by a string of sensory overloading action sequences.

2 out of 4. Weak dialog and an insipid plot make this film fall flatter than a crop circle.

When I first saw the trailer for this film I was immediately impressed by the visual effects and the basic premise—a young woman discovering that she’s actually a star princess (hey, it appeals to the fanboy in me that revels in the populist fantasy of The Last Starfighter…or that other little movie about some kid named Luke joining a rebellion in a far, far off place). It did look a tad “teeny” (i.e., The Hunger Games or Divergent) to me and the inclusion of teen heartthrobs Mila Kunis and Channing Tatum did little to dissuade that notion. Normally, in order to give each movie a fair shake, I start out with a rating of 2 out of 4 stars and adjust up or down accordingly depending on the quality of the film as it progresses. In this case, the needle never budged during the entire movie. Clearly, Warner Bros. thought enough of this project to attach some top talent (and some notable supporting players like Sean Bean and Eddie Redmayne) along with topnotch FX to it, but they clearly should’ve spent some more time and money on this confusing, uninspiring story. I believe it was somewhere around the half hour mark when I asked myself, “Where is this movie going?” There’s no McGuffin to drive the plot. There’s no clear-cut goal. Kunis seems completely unaffected by the fact that she’s actually an intergalactic princess and that little gray guys with fangs are chasing her around the city. Tatum’s acting is patently flat and judging from his character’s appearance, his mother was an elf and his father was a werewolf. Eddie Redmayne clearly hasn’t worked out all of the physical kinks from his turn as Stephen Hawking in The Theory of Everything; his stiff gait looks like he’s had a ramrod shoved up you-know-where and his tightlipped speech hints at a Botox session gone horribly wrong. Kunis’ Jupiter is an indecisive, dimwitted ingénue who consistently makes poor decisions, requiring white knight Tatum to swoop in and rescue her. This pattern occurs ad nauseam in the film—i.e., Kunis marrying Redmayne, who she just met, and then nearly signing ownership of the Earth over to him—and is utterly ludicrous. Like the narrative equivalent of a pinball game, the story bounces from one planet to the next and the plot gets murkier with each new locale the characters visit. The bounty hunter subplot goes nowhere, the action scenes are overblown and the story doesn’t take us anywhere emotionally despite taking us on a whirlwind tour of the cosmos. The only thing I found remotely compelling in the film is the notion that the Earth is just a small cog in an expansive industrialized universe. However, this concept is briefly introduced and then quickly abandoned for one of the film’s myriad action sequences. To call this movie a disappointment is a galactic understatement, especially since it was written and directed by Andy and Lana Wachowski, masterminds behind the Matrix trilogy. If, by some fluke of fate, this movie should perform well enough to inspire a sequel, it should be called Jupiter Descending.

The Theory of Everything (PG-13)

Directed by: James Marsh
Starring: Eddie Redmayne
November 2014

This review was originally tweeted in Real-time from the back row of a movie theater and appears @BackRoweReviews. Though efforts were made to tease rather than ruin this movie’s memorable lines and moments, some spoilers may exist in the following evaluation. The original tweets appear in black, while follow-up comments appear in red. For concerns over objectionable content, please first refer to one of the many parental movie guide websites. All ratings are based on a four star system. Happy reading!

The Theory of Everything

Science meets Arts at a party.
They say opposites attract. Here it’s not only a contrast in field of study but also in political/religious views.

A test to separate the quarks from the quacks. Amusing.
David Thewlis, best know for his portrayal of Remus Lupin in the Harry Potter movies, is a really good journeyman actor and is perfect in the role of Hawking’s professor.

“Celestial dictator.” Hawking’s rather unflattering moniker for the Almighty.
He finds “your lack of faith disturbing.”

“A false conclusion.” True love, however, can never be false.
Proof positive that love isn’t logical or quantifiable. It’s the only thing in the universe that an equation can’t solve. In short, love is the theory of everything. A curious aside: in John Nash’s (Russell Crowe) final speech in A Beautiful Mind (2002), he refers to “the equations of the mind” and credits love as the answer and solution to life’s mysteries. Two brilliant contemporaries arriving at the same conclusion. Fascinating!

Chapter four is “brilliant.” Secures Hawking’s professorship.
Chapters 1-3? Eh.

Need stress relief? Join the church choir.
Hawking’s wife eventually does find relief from her stress…in the arms of the choir director. Scandalous? Look two tweets ahead.

A lesson in pees and potatoes.
Some of the science goes right over my head, but the vacillation of theories regarding divinity is amusing. First Hawking proves the existence of God and then the scientist kills the Almighty. Don’t worry, Stephen, He believes in you even if you don’t believe in Him.

Hawking gives his wife a hall pass.
That was really big of him. Sheesh, I didn’t mean it like that.

A spelling quaint. And crude. What a torturous way to communicate.
Seems like an alphabet chart with a pointer or even a Ouija board would be more efficient.

Hawking slips into a coma...his own personal black hole.

“That is for a friend.” Nice cover.
Oops, I guess that’s a double entendre.

A dot matrix printer. What a blast to the past.
Slow, loud printing. Hard to read. Perforated edges that you had to tear. Don’t miss it at all.

“Look what we made.” Touching.

Final analysis: a bittersweet biopic that deals with personal tragedy and life’s big questions.

3 out of 4. An inspirational tale and an astounding, body-wracking performance by Redmayne.

As a film that focuses on the extraordinary life and career of renowned theoretical physicist, Stephen Hawking, the story is exactly what you’d expect it to be: a chronological, cause and effect period piece with fine performances and a plot that’s diligently moored to the actual account. Some will consider this middle-of-the-plate approach to be acceptable while others will regard it as inexcusably uncomplicated and lacking in imagination. In either case, the plot is a linear progression of significant moments in the mathematician’s life and, as would be expected, the narrative proceeds in a very logical and methodical manner. Save for Hawking’s occasional mental flash of celestial lucidity, there’s very little style here. Since much of the story focuses on Hawking’s preoccupation with time, it would’ve been effective, even fitting, if the story had employed flashbacks, flash-forward’s, disjointed continuity or other causal devices in reflecting the fluid nature of the movie’s temporal plot. Mind you, I’m not advocating a reverse polarity plot like in Christopher Nolan’s Memento (2001), but maybe something with leaps forward or backward in time like TVs Lost would’ve served the movie in good stead. Standard storytelling choices aside, any serious discussion of the film begins and ends with Eddie Redmayne’s mesmerizing, transcendent portrayal of the ALS afflicted central character...due to the inherent physical demands of the part, Redmayne justly deserves the Oscar nod he’s received for this role. Redmayne’s nuanced, effortless depiction of Hawking’s gradual physical deterioration is a study in brilliance. It’s a performance that exacted a considerable toll from the actor—the contortions required to mimic Hawking’s degenerative condition must’ve been agonizing to model and maintain. Somatic challenges aside, Redmayne’s facials reveal a man who appears to be virtually unaffected by his malady. If this portrayal is accurate, Hawking is far more jovial and enthusiastic about life than most of us would be in his position. The fact that Hawking can still smile at all is truly inspirational. All in all, this is a decent film that’s a fitting tribute to one of the brightest minds of our generation. However, the movie lacks the narrative savvy required to effectively convey its chrono-centric theme. The logic over emotion methodology has resulted in a film that fails to make any deep, lasting connection with its audience. So, will this film go down as one of cinema’s finest biopics? Time will tell.

Birdman (R)

Directed by: Alejandro G Inarritu
Starring: Michael Keaton
November 2014

This review was originally tweeted in Real-time from the back row of a movie theater and appears @BackRoweReviews. Though efforts were made to tease rather than ruin this movie’s memorable lines and moments, some spoilers may exist in the following evaluation. The original tweets appear in black, while follow-up comments appear in red. For concerns over objectionable content, please first refer to one of the many parental movie guide websites. All ratings are based on a four star system. Happy reading!


Subtitle: The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance.
Little did I know when I tweeted this phrase that it would appear as a headline later in the movie.

@MichaelKeaton levitating in his underwear is an unexpected first scene. Really sets the tone.
Don’t worry this isn’t the last time you’ll see Keaton in his underwear in the movie.

@ProstateWhispers. Hilarious!
Funny thing is, when I typed it in, some guy had already created that Twitter account. Life imitating art?

“I didn’t even know the man” scene is amusing and beautifully acted.
This is like an entire acting workshop in a five minute exchange. Superb choices by two exceptional actors.

@EdwardNorton brings the cupboard down, but not the house.
Not in the truest sense of the phrase, anyway. His actions do produce hysteria in the audience, but not for being genuinely funny.

“You’re not important. Get used to it.” #EmmaStone delivers one powerhouse monologue.
Stone’s monologue ends up being a direct address to the camera and the intensity in her gaze threatens to burn holes in the screen…and the audience by extension. One thing’s for sure, I’d never want to make her angry.

Truth or dare scene is fun...and revealing.

“I can pretend too.” Ha!
Another phenomenal exchange between Keaton and Norton.

The toilet paper philosophy scene is profound in an offbeat way.
And humorous when Keaton wipes out humanity by absentminded dabbing his face with the double ply square.

Sometimes you have to stop and smell the lilacs.
Or non-smell them in this case. But they still look nice, and it’s the thought that counts.

All that gauze and tape around his nose makes him look like his alter ego.
You can bet this visual symbolism wasn’t just a happy accident.

Final analysis: a meaningful, yet bizarre effort with a behind the scenes,
A Prairie Home Companion vibe.

3 out of 4 stars. An ambitious project with top tier performances and a one-of-a-kind story.

I doubt anyone who’s seen this film would disagree that it’s a true original. Whether or not it’s enjoyable is a matter of opinion. The story itself, which centers on middle-aged Riggan’s (Michael Keaton) attempt at recapturing some of the glories of his early acting career, should be universally understood and appreciated by most folks in the audience. However, the film runs the risk of loosing its audience over whimsical visual elements, i.e., Riggan levitating in his underwear or soaring above the NYC skyline as if he possesses the abilities of the fictitious, titular superhero. The blurred edges of fantasy and reality are painted with fine brushwork by director Alejandro G. Inarritu (Biutiful), but such intermittent departures from reality will undoubtedly prove inspiring for some spectators and irritating for others. There’s an enormous amount of art in the film, which should keep the die-hard cinephiles drooling: there’s also a very Broadway-centric narrative here, which should fill the theater set with elation. To whit, the majority of the movie is filmed inside the expansive area behind the stage, where labyrinthine hallways lend access to the prop, dressing and dining rooms where most of the drama takes place. The action randomly meanders between the various rooms, setting up juicy character vignettes in a similar manner to what Robert Altman achieved in A Prairie Home Companion (2006). Some of the film’s most meaningful moments include: Keaton’s heated exchanges with Emma Stone, his screen daughter; Stone and Edward Norton’s witty banter on the patio; Keaton and Norton as they vie for star status on the show and Keaton’s acerbic conversation with a jaded theater critic (Lindsay Duncan) in a bar. This last scene underscores the antagonistic relationship that often exists between actors and critics—it’s a clash of ideologies with vitriol to spare. Also worth mentioning is the film’s thinly veiled thesis on theater’s ostensible artistic preeminence over commercial films (and TV, etc). The inference here, and it’s been borne out many times by typecast actors, is that an actor who achieves commercial (cinematic) success early in his career might find it difficult to secure serious work in later years. There have been notable exceptions to this notion, like Robert Downey, Jr., who was an established thespian long before he was tapped to play Iron Man (at age 43). A fading public image has vexed many an actor over the decades, and Inarritu takes that mental angst to a fantastical extreme by showing us several glimpses of Riggan’s alter ego—the actual Birdman—who haunts and taunts the aging star’s private musings. Indeed, the often antagonistic or nihilistic voiceover thoughts, which struggle for supremacy over Riggan’s conscious cogitations, are an extremely effective take on the Jekyll/Hyde story device. These dark imaginings pose an intriguing question: Is this whole movie transpiring inside Riggan’s head? If so, is he actually an asylum inmate (as is supposed of Leonardo DiCaprio’s character at the end of Shutter Island) with the movie’s many flights of fancy simply representing the mental mechanizations of a certifiably insane individual? Besides the finely honed characterizations and stylish production, it’s really the multivalent nature of the psychologically complex plot that has ensconced this film in its own creative universe. The story is definitely open to interpretation, as is its appeal.

Taken 3 (PG-13)

Directed by: Olivier Megaton
Starring: Liam Neeson
January 2015

This review was originally tweeted in Real-time from the back row of a movie theater and appears @BackRoweReviews. Though efforts were made to tease rather than ruin this movie’s memorable lines and moments, some spoilers may exist in the following evaluation. The original tweets appear in black, while follow-up comments appear in red. For concerns over objectionable content, please first refer to one of the many parental movie guide websites. All ratings are based on a four star system. Happy reading!


Nothing says “unpredictable” like a giant stuffed panda.
Or an early morning glass of wine…for a pregnant woman (of course, Neeson doesn’t know that his daughter is pregnant at this point, so we’ll let him off the hook on this particular charge).

Liam is framed, chased by cops and escapes via a sewer. Reference Harrison Ford in #
Way too many plot similarities here. But if you’re going to appropriate whole chunks of narrative, might as well steal from a great movie that’s stood the test of time.

Dukes of Hazard style jump over the freeway divider. Intense car chase.
Yet, it doesn’t hold a candle to the frenetic pursuits in the Bourne films.

Father/daughter reunion in a bathroom stall...sounds worse than it is.
I’m not even going to touch this one. Oops, did I just make it worse?

Liquor store shootout. Bad guy eats a bullet.
In fact, he feeds it to himself. There’s some maximum destruction going on in this scene; the rain of bullets, accompanied by glass shards flying like projectiles in myriad directions, is almost poetic. But what a squandered opportunity for an artistic shot of the Russian heavy’s blood mingling with the alcohol on the floor. Oh well, that image would’ve been too good for this movie anyway.

Liam kills a guy in his underwear and Kim is taken...again.
In fact, everyone in the Mills family is abducted in this movie: Lenore (Famke Janssen) is kidnapped by her murderers, Kim (Maggie Grace) is taken by her step-dad’s (Dougray Scott) thugs and Bryan (Neeson), for a short time, is held captive in a cop car. So, in that light, the plot does reflect the title.

Porsche vs jet. Spectacular crash.
But believable?

Warm bagels, warm heart.
This vital clue, delivered with as much sincerity as Academy Award winning Forest Whitaker can muster, is utterly ridiculous and sets up an extremely weak ending. What an unsatisfactory way to button up a largely enjoyable action trilogy.

Final analysis: an action packed series capper that could’ve used a higher octane script.

2 out of 4. Ironically, this final Taken is as “predictable” as its stock characters and standard plot.

It was readily apparent that the Taken series was running out of gas during its mediocre second chapter. Fittingly, this final act runs on fumes the whole way through until, like the wrecked Porsche at the end of the movie, it just can’t go any further. These characters can only be abducted so many times before credulity is stretched to the breaking point, right? Instead of focusing on abductions for this latest outing, the writers decided to try a new tack by making Bryan Mills (Neeson) a fugitive for killing his wife, which he didn’t do…of course. If this plot sounds familiar, it is: namely The Fugitive (1993). Trouble is, Harrison Ford already blazed this trail, along with David Janssen who originated the role on TV in the 60s. Taking nothing away from Neeson, Ford did the innocent man on the run routine much better. However, a derivative plot is far from what ails this movie the most. The formula has lost all potency by now since we know someone will be abducted and that Neeson will find and rescue the taken family member while dispatching a host of Baltic baddies in spectacular, though unbelievable, fashion. The previous two films saw the majority of their action unfolding in European locales, but this film takes place entirely in L.A., a rather banal locus for an action picture. The movie’s directing, writing and acting are all uninspired and perfunctory—even Neeson seems to be walking (when he’s not running) through his scenes. And several parts of the plot are just plain daft, i.e.: A highly skilled ex-special forces agent buys his twenty-something daughter a giant stuffed panda for her birthday? Is anyone that clueless or inept? Sure, a couple of the action sequences get the heart racing a bit, but they’re instantly forgettable (save for the jet clipping scene) due to standard storyboarding and filming. The only aspect that even remotely works here is Neeson’s three friends getting more screen time than in the previous two films. However, the downside is that their character development is razor thin and the dialog written for them (E.g., “Okay…okay…got it.”) is pedestrian beyond belief. This entire film looks like it was shot with economy in mind—it’s a substandard action film that squanders the considerable talents of Neeson and Whitaker on material that’s better suited to a direct-to-video release. In fact, it feels like the film was rushed through its paces just to get it onto the big screen and into the inevitable Taken trilogy box set. In the first two films, it was the characters that were taken for a ride; in this film, it’s the audience. Take my word for it.