“ABDUCTION” (2011) Review

“ABDUCTION” (2011) Review

It is very rare to find a Hollywood action film that features a leading man under the age of twenty (20). But I recently came across one, when I saw Taylor Lautner’s new film called “ABDUCTION”

Directed by John Singleton and written by Shawn Christensen, “ABDUCTION” is an action thriller about a Pennsylvania teen, who sets out to uncover the truth about his life after finding his baby photo on a missing persons website. Nathan Harper has a recurring nightmare featuring the death of an unknown woman and consults a psychiatrist named Dr. Geraldine Bennett to discover why. One day, Nathan is partnered with his neighbor and fellow classmate Karen Murphy for a school assignment about missing children. When Karen finds a website that shows how the children would look like as adults, Nathan discovers that a young boy named Steven Price would look exactly like him at an older age. Searching in his basement, he finds the same shirt that Steven is wearing in the picture and realizes that he and Steven are the same person. Nathan calls the website’s owner, unaware that he is a Russian terrorist named Viktor Kozlow.

Not long after Nathan’s call, Kozlow sends two of his agents to Nathan’s house. They attack Nathan’s parents, Kevin and Mara, who tell him to run before being murdered and the house is destroyed. Nathan and Karen escape and attempt to call the police, but the call is intercepted by CIA operative Frank Burton, who tells Nathan that he’s in danger and sends a team to pick him up. Before the CIA’s arrival, Dr. Bennett appears and tells Nathan that Burton cannot be trusted and reveals that Nathan’s adoptive parents were CIA agents assigned to look after him. She also reveals that Nathan’s biological father, Martin, is a CIA agent who stole a list from Kozlow with the names of corrupt CIA operatives. Kozlow had created the website in order to locate Nathan and use him as leverage to force Martin to return the list.

When I first saw the preview for “ABDUCTION”, I had assumed it would be another “HANNA” – namely about a genetically enhanced adolescent trained in self defense and to be an assassin. Thankfully, it did not turned out that way. I suspect that many critics would have been more satisfied if “ABDUCTION” had been another “HANNA”. Personally, I found “HANNA” to be a pretentious bore. And the last thing I wanted to see was another “profound” movie about some highly skilled teenager wanted by various governments and terrorists. “ABDUCTION” does feature a hunt by an intelligence agency and terrorist for an adolescent. But this hunt has nothing to do with him being genetically enhanced. Instead, he is wanted as a bargaining chip for a source of valuable information.

Was “ABDUCTION” any good? Most critics seemed to think otherwise. A great deal of negative reviews practically swamped this film. And if I must be frank, “ABDUCTION” is not another “DIE HARD” or “LETHAL WEAPON”. However, I do not find this surprising. No Hollywood producer would ever heavily finance an action thriller starring an 18-to-19 year-old star, who is only known for co-starring in a series of adolescent vampire flicks. But I must admit . . . “ABDUCTION” was not a disappointment. In fact, I thought it was an entertaining movie. One, the movie featured a solid story about a teenager being used by the CIA and foreign terrorists, because of his father’s profession. Two, thanks to director John Singleton’s direction, “ABDUCTION” was a well-paced film that featured exciting action sequences and solid dramatic moments. I also have to commend Peter Menzies Jr. for his beautiful photography of Pittsburgh and the area around southwestern Pennsylvania.

Singleton also worked well with a cast that featured solid performances from the likes of Maria Bello, Jason Isaacs, Sigourney Weaver, Michael Nyqvist, Dermot Mulroney and Alfred Molina. Any of these performers could have easily carried this film. But it was all up to the likes of Taylor Lautner and his co-star, Lily Collins, to achieve this task. And while many critics and moviegoers may believe that these two failed, I do not believe they did. Actually, they did a very good job – especially Lautner – in carrying the film. More importantly, both Lautner and Collins managed to create a great screen chemistry. Screenwriter Shawn Christensen could have easily ended this film on an illogical note by allowing the Nathan character to save the day and outwit the highly skilled Kozlow. Fortunately, the screenwriter used common sense and allowed Nathan to receive some much needed help in the end.

Would I view “ABDUCTION” as a potential film classic? No. I would say that it is a near-mediocre film. I say . . .near-mediocre, because I feel that it was able to raise above the line of mediocrity. I would never consider it at the same level as the likes “DIE HARD” or “LETHAL WEAPON”. But I must admit that it was a pretty solid action thriller that would be great to watch on a rainy day, thanks to director John Singleton and leading man Taylor Lautner. Speaking of Lautner, he is probably too young to be seriously considered as an action star. But he has the looks, the presence and talent to achieve this goal in less than a decade. Good luck to him.

”THE MUMMY: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor” (2008) Review

 

”THE MUMMY: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor” (2008) Review

Nearly two years ago, Universal Pictures released its third film in ”THE MUMMY” franchise, starring Brendan Fraser as adventurer Rick O’Connell. This third outing centered around Rick and his family’s attempts to stop the resurrection of a ruthless Chinese emperor in post-World War II China. 

The film began with a narration about the rise to power of Emperor Han (Jet Li), the Dragon Emperor and detailed the relationship between him and Xi Yuan (Michelle Yeoh), who knows the secrets of immortality. Han declared to his first in command General Ming (Russell Wong) that no one is to touch Xi Yuan, however ever since General Ming was charged with finding Xi Yuan and bringing her to Han, he ended up falling for her. After Xi Yuan supposedly cast the immortality spell on Han, he ushered Xi Yuan to the balcony where they look down to see General Ming tied at the arms and legs about to be pulled apart by horses. Han found out about their relationship and killed Ming while Xi Yuan watches. He then stabbed her, but she escaped. Knowing that the Emperor would destroy the world if he were to become immortal, Xi Yuan placed a curse on him and his army to be turned to stone.

The movie shifted to late 1946/early 1947, at a time when explorer Rick O’Connell (Fraser), his archeologist/novelist wife Evelyn (Maria Bello) and brother-in-law Jonathan Carnahan (John Hannah) are now retired. Both Rick and Evelyn seemed to be bored with their retirement. Their son Alex (Luke Ford) has dropped out of school and has become what the older O’Connells still long to be, explorers and adventurers. Alex, along with the financial backing of a colleague of his parents, Roger Wilson (David Calder), found and excavated the Dragon Emperor’s tomb and is attacked by a mysterious woman (Isabella Leong). They avoid being harmed and successfully bring the Emperor back to Shanghai, where Jonathan owns a night club called Imhotep. In the meantime, the British government entrusted the elder O’Connells to take the Eye of Shangri-La back to China as a good faith gesture from the British to the Chinese. All the O’Connells end up at Alex’s exhibit in Shanghai. Roger, General Yang (Anthony Wong Chau-Sang) and his second in command Choi (Jessey Meng) intervened, taking the Eye of Shangri-La and forcing Evelyn to read the script to open the Eye and release the Emperor. Alex found the mysterious woman from the excavation site at the exhibit and after a quick dialogue, both helped in freeing Alex’s parents. With the resurrected Han escaping with General Yang, the O’Connells chased them through the streets of Shanghai until the Dragon Emperor and Yang escaped. The mysterious woman turned out to be an immortal named Lin a protector of the Dragon Emperors tomb. She also happened to be Xi Yuan and General Ming’s daughter. Lin informed the O’Connells that Han will try to become immortal by going to Shangri-La using the Eye as its guide.

When I had learned that Stephen Sommers, who had directed the first two ”MUMMY” films, would not be returning at the helm to direct this third movie, I had a small suspicion that the latter would not possess the same production values as the first two films. And when Universal Pictures released the news that the film would be released in the second half of the 2008 summer season, instead of in May of that year, my suspicions were confirmed. And I was right. The production values of ”THE MUMMY: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor” did not seem as impressive as its two predecessors. Aside from the impressive set that served as mid-1940s Shanghai, Simon Duggan’s photography failed to capture the epic grandeur of the first two films.

The cinematography was not the only thing about this film that disappointed me. I must admit that I was not that impressed by the film’s final battle near the Great Wall of China. Everything seemed rushed, as if either the two screenwriters – Alfred Gough and Miles Millar (creators of ”SMALLVILLE”) or the film’s director, Rob Cohen (”THE FAST AND THE FURIOUS” and ”XXX”), were in a rush to end the film. What disappointed me more than anything were the two hand-to-hand fight scenes in the finale. After the spectacular fight between Jet Li and Jackie Chan in ”THE FORBIDDEN KINGDOM”, I had expected something just as or nearly as spectacular in the fight scene between Li and Michelle Yeoh. After all, both are martial arts icons who have worked in previous movies together. But it did not last very long. Hell, it barely last two minutes on the screen. And although Li’s fight scene with Fraser did last a longer, it failed to recapture the more interesting fight scene between Fraser and Arnold Vosloo in ”THE MUMMY RETURNS”.

Thankfully, ”THE MUMMY: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor” possessed even more virtues than flaws. The story of the O’Connell family being manipulated into raising a Chinese mummy turned out to be a solid adventure that took the family from the streets of Shanghai, to the Himalayas, the edge of the fabled Shangri-La and finally China’s famous Great Wall. Even better, the movie told the twofold story of Rick and Evelyn learning and failing to deal with professional retirement and their joy in being led into a new adventure. The movie also featured a family drama centered around the O’Connells’ efforts to re-connect with their only son, Alex.

Even though I had expressed disappointment at the screenwriters and Rob Cohen’s handling of the finale, I must admit that the film featured four sequences that I truly enjoyed. The first featured Alex and Wilson’s discovery of Emperor Han’s tomb and their hostile encounter with Lin. The second sequence occurred in the snowy Himalayas, where the O’Connells, Jonathan and Lin attempt to prevent the resurrected Han from reaching the tower that will reveal the path to Shangri-La when the Eye, a precious blue diamond is placed on top of it, and fight off General Yang and some of his men. There is a short moment in the first half of the movie in which a bored Evelyn tries to inject a little excitement in hers and Rick’s lives by seducing him in a slinky nightgown. Instead of being successful, the desperate Evelyn found Rick sitting in an armchair – fast asleep and snoring. This was one of the most hysterical examples of a mid-life crisis I have ever seen on film and probably the funniest moment in the entire franchise. But the sequence that I truly enjoyed featured the O’Connells’ adventures in Shanghai – from the moment when Rick and Evelyn are reconciled with Alex and Jonathan, to the riotous chase sequence through the streets of Shanghai. I thought it was wonderfully detailed and well staged. The sequence also featured a mean hand-to-hand fight scene between Evelyn and Yang’s second-in-command, Choi. Frankly, I consider their fight the best one in the entire movie.

Both Brendan Fraser and John Hannah returned to reprise their roles of Rick O’Connell and Jonathan Carnahan for the third time. And as they had done in the first two movies, did excellent jobs. Come on. This Brendan and John we are talking about. They can do no wrong in my eyes. I honestly have to say the same about Maria Bello as Evelyn Carnahan O’Connell. I must admit that I had been disappointed when I first learned that Rachel Weisz had decided not to reprise the role of Evelyn. Do not get me wrong. I loved Rachel as Evelyn. But Maria Bello’s portrayal of the character actually made me forget about her. I enjoyed Maria’s performance as Evelyn that much. Her Evelyn is, of course, older and a little more self assured. And like her husband, is bored with life.   And I was surprised to discover that she had a great chemistry with Fraser. I must admit that I felt a little unsure about Luke Ford’s performance as Alex. There were times I found him rather interesting. There were other times when I found his performance a little over-the-top. I also found his accent rather confusing, until I realized that it was neither American nor British. I discovered that Ford was an Australian actor. But his natural accent did not seem effectively hidden. Isabella Leong did a solid job as the young woman who helps the O’Connells stop Han. But I must admit that I found nothing remarkable or extraordinary about her performance. As for Jet Li . . . well, he was perfect. He is one of the few action stars who could portray both heroic and villainous characters effortlessly. And Michelle Yeoh was wonderfully poignant as the Chinese witch, Xi Yuan, whose curse against the treacherous Han set the entire story in motion.

If I must be frank, ”THE MUMMY: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor” lacked the more prestigious production of the first two films. And its finale was one that I found slightly disappointing. However, it did lack the over-the-top . . . almost screeching quality of the second film – ”THE MUMMY RETURNS”. And thanks to the cast, director Rob Cohen, Alfred Gough and Miles Millar, this third ”MUMMY” film turned out to be an entertaining film that one would experience a lot of fun watching. My opinion? Rent it.  You will enjoy it.