See It Instead: Taken 3
Time once again to scour the bargain bin and bring you excellent films from yesteryear. When you want the big time feel of the theater without the big time price of a 3D, surround sound, feel-around butter flavored blockbuster, turn to See It Instead for three quality flicks that deserve your attention instead!
Taken 3 (2015)
Tired of Liam Neeson and his “particular skill set” yet? Well, you will be, because this film is the first of about a dozen movies starring Liam this year. The final installment of the Taken franchise (yeah…right, Hollywood, I’ve heard that promise before) features our ex-spy hero framed for the murder of his wife…who existed? I thought the whole point of his obsessive relationship with his daughter was that he was a lonely old dude with nobody else in his life. I guess the studio figured neither the audience nor the hero would even bother to get worked up if his kidnap prone daughter were the problem again. The film also stars Famke Jannsen as the wife who gets conveniently murdered (she’s starting to get type cast as the most murdered woman in Hollywood these days…her and Sean Bean should do a film together and the whole mystery would be which one gets brutally offed first.)
The Serious Pick: Man on Fire (2004)
Denzel Washington stars in this decidedly grim take on the kidnapping genre. An alcoholic ex-CIA operative trying to run from his own inner demons, Washington takes a last ditch at redemption by agreeing to be the personal bodyguard for a wealthy business man’s family. Said business man lives in the kidnapping capital of Mexico and has a young daughter (Dakota Fanning)…so you know how this goes down. The little girl is taken by a gang of professional kidnappers, but not before she manages to return some of Washington’s lost humanity, and not before Washington is able to return a couple pounds of high caliber redemption into the bodies of her kidnappers. Severely wounded, Denzel makes a pledge to the girl’s mother that he will kill everybody involved in the taking…I think she would have prefererred “I’ll get your little girl back,” but “I will go murder-bot 9000 on their asses” is the best Denzel can do. He then proceeds to do exactly that.
Man on Fire takes a sober and jaundiced look at post 9/11 life in the CIA, dealing with issues of torture, rendition, post-traumatic stress and suicide. A pulse-pounding action film that routinely reminds us that our white knight is a very messed up individual, trying to do the best he can with a particular skill set that consists almost entirely of knowing the best way to hurt and kill other human beings. Denzel is no stranger to dark roles that expose the underbelly of the American hero myth (think Training Day turned up to 11) and he is excellent in this film: a tough, broken man who is convincing as both a death dealing agent and as a completely burned out husk of a person. Add in several interesting plot twists and you get just about everything you could want from the genre. Which is murder. Lots of murder.
The Lighthearted Pick: Pure Luck (1991)
If you think Liam’s daughter in the Taken films is the most luckless individual in film history, you’re in for a treat. Danny Glover is a private detective who must find the daughter of a wealthy business man who disappeared in Mexico. That is apparently the premise of 90% of kidnapping flicks, so good job Mexican tourism industry, you’re really outdoing yourself. The wrinkle in this case is that the young lady is diagnosed as having ludicrously, abysmally bad luck. In order to find her, Glover reasons that he’ll need somebody nearly as luckless…and one such man happens to work for the girl’s father as an accountant: Eugene Proctor (Martin Short.) In order to recreate the daughter’s movements, Glover convinces Short that he is in charge of the investigation, and then proceeds to sit back and watch the dimwitted fool stumble into every pratfall south of the Rio Grande.
Danny Glover should get a lifetime achievement for playing the straight man in just about every buddy cop film, and Martin Short is a frenetic bundle of nerves who can sell just about any self-debilitating physical comedy you could conceive of. The two are perfect for each other, and Pure Luck uses their particular skill sets (tired of this phrase yet?) to excellent effect.
The Unconventional Pick: Ruthless People (1986)
Kidnapping films tend to feature some of the worst human beings you could imagine. The hero is usually an anti-social misanthrope who prefers most of his relationships to end in explosions or gunfire, the ransom target is often a complete waste of space, the ransom payer is usually a scumbag, and the kidnappers are kidnappers, about the lowest form of life on Earth. So naturally the Zucker Brothers and Jay Abrahams (The Naked Gun and Airplane! series of spoof movies) decided to make a comedy about a kidnapping where everyone involved was just about the worst human being you could imagine. This is that movie.
Danny DeVito is a sleazeball millionaire who uses his shrewish wife’s (Bette Midler) fortune to steal other people’s products and make money off them. When a couple who he ripped off (Judge Reinhold and Helen Slater) kidnap his wife, DeVito is overjoyed: he was planning on killing her and taking her money so he could run away with his mistress. A comedy of errors ensues as Bette Midler subjects her luckless captors to a nightmare blend of Meet the Fockers and Home Alone style torture, and Danny DeVito goes about spectacularly botching all of the kidnapping demands on purpose, trying to get Midler killed.
This would be a pretty standard set up for a gonzo comedy, but Ruthless People doubles down on the double crossing and elevates deviant behavior to an art form. While the above fiasco is playing out, it turns out that DeVito’s mistress is attempting to blackmail him…but instead ends up with evidence of a scandal that would ruin the chief of police’s career. So now the police are out to get DeVito, who is out to get his mistress, while the kidnappers and his wife are out to get everybody involved. It’s a complicated mess, packed with dark comedy and wonderful performances (if you blink, you’ll miss Bill Pullman’s debut as the boy-toy of DeVito’s mistress.) Reminiscent of A Fish Called Wanda, Ruthless People is a great ensemble comedy. I guess you can thank the Zucker Brother’s particular skill set when it comes to goofball comedies…