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An absurd premise from the get-go - that travel to Europe is horrendously dangerous for pretty young American girls due to the unstoppable tactics of rampant white slavers. And we're specifically told that the eastern Euro. bad guys have switched from securing their "product" by luring pretty residents of the former Soviet bloc to jobs that don't exist, instead looking to "slash transportation expenses" by just grabbing girls as they arrive at Heathrow airport.
Natalie Holloway, anyone? What happens when just one pretty, American girl disappears during foreign travel? We're supposed to believe the hue and cry from press around the world wouldn't offset the cost of a car trip from Moldova? I didn't buy Liam Neeson as the girl's father for an instant, and exposition is rarely as clumsy as is seen in "Taken," with Neeson's former colleagues showing up to grill some beef and replay the good old days in Beirut, battling those stuffed shirts "back at Langley."
The conveniences amass quickly, from the rich step-dad who can conveniently fly Neeson to the scene, and from there with Neeson never taking a step that doesn't lead him directly to exactly the bad guys responsible for his supposed daughter's disappearance, and even to the very same locations she'd traveled through just hours before.
Oh, and if you see a car chase taking place anywhere in the proximity of a bulldozer, its shovel blade menacingly close as the vehicles whip nearby, just what do YOU suppose will eventually happen to one of the bad guys. Fortunately, when he cleverly plants a bug on one of those bad guys, seconds later the guy is talking to his henchman about the missing girl's location. When Neeson character gets home, he should by a Powerball lottery ticket, because his good luck never falters! The "action" kicks off with Neeson confronting a mysterious knife-wielding attacker pursuing an internationally known singing star.
What a lucky thing for the attacker that a security slip-up allowed adoring crowds to flood backstage post-concert, and that fleeing them happened to take the mega-star running past the very spot where the dangerous man waited with his glinting knife blade. Neeson's handling of this situation is the final piece to the puzzle that tells us he's every bit as sharp as he was back when he led an elite CIA team.
The film is competently, sometimes even prettily shot. But the story stretched the bounds of credibility far beyond reason. It does not ask for a suspension of belief - it requires dim-witted stupidity. And while Neeson appears up to - and perhaps even relishes the action aspects of a Bruce Willis role: vindictive, no-holds-barred CIA killer/Dad, the script's efforts to set him up as such is amateurish in the extreme.
Finally, as alluded to earlier, while the first 15 minutes show us Neeson gazing with a smile at family photos of his daughter, nothing in his performance with the young lady herself (other than the TV-caliber dialogue) leads us to suspect they've even met before. Yeah, she hugs him a lot and says, "Oh, Daddy!" But I never bought it.
The Happening (2008)
Oh, poor Mark Wahlberg. Poor Zooey Deschanel. Poor John Leguizamo. Poor, poor, POOR, dear Betty Buckley. Poor ticket buyers, and poor renters. Poor everybody associated with this film in any way.
20th Century has no excuse for ever letting this film out. After a private screening, and given the opportunity, I'd wager all involved would have been willing to pay shares adding up to whatever it would have cost to keep the public from ever seeing this - presumably with Shyamalan eagerly and humbly paying the largest share.
I know, not a detailed and reasoned review. There are a few hundred of those already. This is all you need to know.
The film is utterly, irredeemably, unforgivably awful. And a pox on those who chose to release it once they knew what it was.
Awful, awful, awful. Brent Taylor as Starkweather is passable, barely, as is Shannon Lucio. I'd give either another watch in something else - for a second chance. But here they're stuck in a formulaic, unimaginative script that seems terribly impressed with itself and its import. Worse, one senses the director cackling as he imagines how stunned we'll be seeing the murderous pair casually watch television, oblivious to blood still splattered (oh-so-artfully) across their faces. Excerpts from an episode of "Ozzie and Harriett" play in the BG as Caril-Ann's family is slaughtered. Goodness, how ironic! I note that actor Jerry Kroll's very few credits are also among those listed for Dir. Byron Werner. (Kroll was the sheriff.) Given Kroll's performance here, one has to assume Werner sees something in him that NO ONE else can.
This film is packed with many more eye-rolling moments like those described above, and some truly appalling performances. Sheriff Karnopp and his partner - Al Sepianza - are especially dreadful; wooden, self-aware and thoroughly unconvincing. (Sepianza, a reliable, workman-like actor, seems to be performing for a film other than the one we're seeing. I just can't figure out if he's awful, if he's horribly miscast, or if he was terribly misled by the so-called director.) I gather Starkweather was shot with Acton, CA. and Palmdale, CA. passing for Nebraska and Wyoming. But I honestly thought the embarrassing performances unintentionally gave (desperately needed) credibility to the locale. That is, one had no trouble imagining they were shooting in the hinterlands of Nebraska, and so hired every last local community theater player to appear in major roles. The Governor, the "rich lady" and her maid, the happy, sweet couple, the patrolman coming upon the killers on the highway, Sheriff Karnopp and the deputy...and on, and on, and on.
For a quick example of the hideous editing and directing, catch the patrolman radioing information in as he spots Starkweather wrestling a prospective victim - eventually PASSING the pair wrestling over a gun, and the subsequent "chase" scene (The deputy seems to "rack" his shotgun two or three times before every ridiculous shot).
Even the wardrobe wanders from merely pedestrian to truly ridiculous. Witness the sheriff's ludicrous outfits throughout, and the "rich ladies" absurd housecoat and head wrap. The clothes put me in mind of the "it's best we can do" scrounging of college kids producing a short film... kids who are actually in the college's veterinary program.
I rank the movie a TWO only because I save ONEs for movies that are this bad AND include (intentional) scatological elements. Starkweather rated R, and that should be R for "It's just Rful."