TICKING UNEXPLODED bomb? Check. Mysterious villains? Check. Amnesia? Check. If the movieverse has taught us anything, it’s that one should never take a holiday with Liam Neeson.
The Ballymena actor’s most recent European vacation, you may remember, was Taken, Luc Besson’s high-octane reworking of a Victorian penny dreadful. Last year Neeson wound up in Baghdad as part of a tour of duty with The A Team. This summer’s Hangover 2, in which the Oscar-nominated actor plays a tattoo artist, is unlikely to stick to a sensible itinerary.
Even by the standards of these fraught travelogues, Unknown may represent the worst luck ever visited upon any single Neeson character up to and including Oskar Schindler.
It’s bad enough when one of the world’s biggest action heroes wakes up in a Berlin hospital unable to recall how he got there. It’s worse that nobody else knows enough to ask for an autograph.
Confused and possibly impaired, Neeson’s Dr Martin Harris staggers back to his hotel, only to discover that his wife (January Jones) and colleagues at the biotechnology summit don’t recognise him. He’s even more perturbed to find another Dr Martin Harris (played by fellow Irishman Aidan Quinn) has taken his place. A series of chases and encounters with shadowy assassins leads our befuddled hero to seek assistance from former Stasi agent Ernst Jürgen (Bruno Ganz), a gifted old snoop with a twinkle in his eye. Car crashes ensue.
It’s difficult to say which aspect of the ensuing nonsense is the most outlandish. This is a thriller where Diane Kruger effortlessly heaves an unconscious Neeson from a sinking car; where Berlin is peppered with convenient stacks of crates and buffers (all the better to drive into), and where the cold war seemingly potters along at the behest of ageing conspirators.
It would be equally difficult to deny Unknown’s worth as a big, dumb entertainment. Director Jaume Collet-Serra, the brains behind the nerve-wrecking 2009 horror-thriller Orphan, rattles through the material with enough flair and pace to compensate for the yarn’s increasingly implausible trajectory.
A lengthy afterlife on DVD looks certain.