Luc Besson

Taken 2 (2012, Olivier Megaton), the unrated version

Besides a truly excellent real time (or very close to it) sequence where Maggie Grace avoids being kidnapped in order to help already kidnapped parents Liam Neeson and Famke Janssen, there's not much to Taken 2. Even the action-packed finale is a disappointment. I had been hoping it'd match that long sequence–which goes from a foot chase to car chase, with action moments throughout–but it's like everyone gave up and truncated the ending.

Maybe Neeson had it in his contract the movie could only run so long. A major part of his performance is his visible distain for the film; he incorporates the world weariness into the part well, but one can't help notice he doesn't run very often and many of the complicated action choreography happens when he's offscreen.

Still, director Megaton does a perfectly adequate job. Taken 2 is fast and dumb, no one seems to disagree. Writers Luc Besson and Robert Mark Kamen don't even try to fill the runtime with action and intrigue–there's a long first act setting up Janssen and Grace visiting Istanbul with Neeson. The writers pretend spending time with the characters will make the audience care, but really… no one cares. Not the writers, not the actors. They all do okay enough–even Grace, who looks about twenty-two as a teenager (which isn't bad, considering she was twenty-eight or so during filming).

Maybe it'd be better if Rade Serbedzija's villain weren't so lame, but why bother caring. Like I said, no one else does.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Olivier Megaton; written by Luc Besson and Robert Mark Kamen; director of photography, Romain Lacourbas; edited by Camille Delamarre and Vincent Tabaillon; music by Nathaniel Méchaly; production designer, Sébastien Inizan; produced by Besson; released by EuropaCorp.

Starring Liam Neeson (Bryan Mills), Maggie Grace (Kim), Famke Janssen (Lenore), Leland Orser (Sam), Jon Gries (Casey), D.B. Sweeney (Bernie), Luke Grimes (Jamie) and Rade Serbedzija (Murad Krasniqi).


The Family (2013, Luc Besson)

I don’t know if the best description for The Family is confused or confusing. Besson is doing a mob “comedy” with Robert De Niro ostensibly spoofing his more famous mob movie personas, only the film isn’t exactly funny. De Niro thinks the violence he enacts upon others is funny, but he’s a psychopath. I think Besson’s got to get it-he even goes so far to do an unbelievably big Goodfellas thing with that film’s audience clapping for De Niro after he talks about the good old days of being a mobster in New York.

Only Besson doesn’t really draw attention to it. He takes the time for it, he does the work, he just doesn’t help the viewer along. Such muted commentary just makes the film slightly hostile.

De Niro’s fine in the lead. Even though the cast is outstanding, Besson jumps around so much De Niro actually doesn’t get to spend a lot of time with the principals. He and Michelle Pfeiffer have a couple really nice moments; mostly De Niro just plays off Tommy Lee Jones as his FBI handler.

Pfeiffer’s awesome, she gets two subplots to herself. In one, her Catholic arc, Besson plays with how absurd humor works. He sort of breaks it apart and looks at it.

Dianna Agron and John D’Leo are both excellent as the kids. D’Leo’s got more fun stuff to do, with Agron having the film’s most dramatic arc.

Lovely Thierry Arbogast photography as always.

The Family‘s a surprise success.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Luc Besson; screenplay by Besson and Michael Caleo, based on a novel by Tonino Benacquista; director of photography, Thierry Arbogast; edited by Julien Rey; music by Evgueni Galperine and Sacha Galperine; production designer, Hugues Tissandier; produced by Besson, Ryan Kavanaugh and Virginie Silla; released by Relativity Media.

Starring Robert De Niro (Fred Blake), Michelle Pfeiffer (Maggie Blake), Dianna Agron (Belle Blake), John D’Leo (Warren Blake), Jimmy Palumbo (Di Cicco), Domenick Lombardozzi (Caputo), Stan Carp (Don Luchese), Vincent Pastore (Fat Willy), Jon Freda (Rocco) and Tommy Lee Jones (Robert Stansfield).


Point of No Return (1993, John Badham)

I can’t remember any good Hollywood remakes of recent foreign films. Point of No Return was supposed to be a big deal–Bridget Fonda getting the coveted lead was a big deal (she went on to say she’d never read reviews again after No Return).

The film’s basically a shot for shot remake of Nikita; besides screenwriters of questionable pedigree, the real problem is John Badham.

As a friend once said, “John Badham makes bad movies.”

Badham trying to make this film is ludicrous. It’s got a complicated character arc–villain to hero–and Badham doesn’t work well with complexities. He also doesn’t do well when he doesn’t have a strong, movie star lead.

Part of the point of Point of No Return is Bridget Fonda not having a strong personality. When she’s in scenes with Gabriel Byrne or, especially, Anne Bancroft, it’s a complete misfire under Badham’s direction.

Hans Zimmer’s absurd score is no help either. Zimmer gives an action movie a zany comedy score. And it’s always blaring.

The film’s very much of its time–Harvey Keitel shows up post-Reservoir Dogs, Dermot Mulroney is still in big studio releases–but it’s hard to understand why Warners thought Badham was the right director for this picture. Badham was never an A-list director and this picture was–at least, like I said, in my recollection–intended to be a major release.

Maybe after Luc Besson turned it down, Warner gave up trying.

Instead, Badham made a boring remake.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by John Badham; screenplay by Robert Getchell and Alexandra Seros, based on a film by Luc Besson; director of photography, Michael W. Watkins; edited by Frank Morriss; music by Hans Zimmer; production designer, Philip Harrison; produced by Art Linson; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Bridget Fonda (Maggie), Gabriel Byrne (Bob), Dermot Mulroney (J.P.), Miguel Ferrer (Kaufman), Anne Bancroft (Amanda), Olivia d’Abo (Angela), Richard Romanus (Fahd Bahktiar) and Harvey Keitel (Victor the Cleaner).


Kiss of the Dragon (2001, Chris Nahon)

I wonder how long it takes Luc Besson and Robert Mark Kamen to script their action movies. None are ever very long (or very good—for the most part) and they’re all exceptionally simple. Maybe they have some kind of fun method to it, like they get a Domino’s pizza and write one in a night, maybe even acting the scenes out while someone transcribes it all.

Kiss of the Dragon’s got some awful dialogue, mostly because they try to be serious and show how difficult life is for Bridget Fonda. She’s an American farm girl turned heroin-addicted Parisian streetwalker. It’s unclear how she made the transition… something the script touches on, then avoids because it seems too difficult.

Fonda is all right—she has the film’s worst lines. She’s never quite believable, but she’s always too good for the script.

Jet Li’s solid in the lead role (though he’s asexual as always, which severely cuts into Dragon’s realism at times). Tchéky Karyo has a great time as the villain, though Besson is sort of redoing Leon, only with a Chinese guy in Paris instead of an Italian guy in New York.

The cultural thing is a little strange—Besson and Kamen portray the French police as corrupt murderers, while the Chinese are the good guys. The Chinese government banned the film, apparently not taking the compliment.

Craig Armstrong’s score is pretty, but isn’t well-suited.

Nahon’s direction has good moments. Dragon is always watchable, even if it’s stupid.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Chris Nahon; screenplay by Luc Besson and Robert Mark Kamen, based on a story by Jet Li; director of photography, Thierry Arbogast; edited by Marco Cavé; music by Craig Armstrong; production designer, Jacques Bufnoir; produced by Besson, Steve Chasman and Happy Walters; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Jet Li (Liu Jian), Bridget Fonda (Jessica Kamen), Tchéky Karyo (Insp. Richard), Max Ryan (Lupo), Ric Young (Mister Big), Burt Kwouk (Uncle Tai) and Laurence Ashley (Aja).


The Extraordinary Adventures of Adèle Blanc-Sec (2010, Luc Besson)

The Extraordinary Adventures of Adèle Blanc-Sec is almost too precious for its own good. It’s so enraptured with the world it creates–Paris in 1911, where pterodactyls and mummies can come back to life–it sometimes forgets to get the viewer as involved.

Besson does a fantastic job bringing that world to life and a lot of it is close to being his best work… but there’s a disconnect. The beginning takes quite a while to introduce the lead–Louise Bourgoin makes the film as the titular Adèle–and in that instance, it has some charm. It seems like the supporting cast is going to have something to do with her. Regardless of the actual plot, she’s got to be the focus.

But she’s often not. I mean, she doesn’t even have a scene with Gilles Lellouche, who has the second-most screen time. He’s a comic police inspector who’s crossing paths with everyone but Bourgoin.

I imagine it’s a facet faithful to the source comic book (which I have unfortunately yet to read–Tardi is fantastic and is only now getting translated and printed in the States). In other words, there’s Besson being too precious again. It feels like he’s doing a straight narrative adaption of the source material, instead of making the storytelling approach appropriate for film.

There are some nice supporting performances, particularly from Jacky Nercessian and Nicolas Giraud.

Besson’s enthusiasm to sell it as a franchise leaves the ending wanting, making a film with the potential to be singular just good instead.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Luc Besson; screenplay by Besson, based on the comic book by Jacques Tardi; director of photography, Thierry Arbogast; edited by Julien Rey; music by Eric Serra; production designer, Hugues Tissandier; produced by Virginie Silla; released by EuropaCorp Distribution.

Starring Louise Bourgoin (Adèle Blanc-Sec), Mathieu Amalric (Dieuleveult), Gilles Lellouche (Inspecteur Albert Caponi), Jean-Paul Rouve (Justin de Saint-Hubert), Jacky Nercessian (Marie-Joseph Espérandieu), Philippe Nahon (Le professeur Ménard), Nicolas Giraud (Andrej Zborowski), Laure de Clermont-Tonnerre (Agathe Blanc-Sec), Gérard Chaillou (Président Armand Fallières), Serge Bagdassarian (Ferdinand Choupard), Claire Perot (Nini les Gambettes), François Chattot (Raymond Pointrenaud), Stanislas De la Tousche (Le chauffeur Pointrenaud) and Youssef Hajdi (Aziz).


Danny the Dog (2005, Louis Leterrier)

Danny the Dog is better than it should be–it’s not as good as it could have been, but it’s definitely better than it should be.

The film finally gives Jet Li an appropriate English language role. Here, he can turn in a decent performance while doing his physical stuff. Li’s very likable (maybe because he’s so diminutive).

Villain Bob Hoskins is a bit of a problem though. While dynamic, the character’s too one dimensional (it’s one of those wholly evil villains) and Hoskins doesn’t bring anything to it.

The big surprise of the film (besides it being good and Morgan Freeman starring in it) is Kerry Conden, playing Freeman’s stepdaughter. Conden binds the film. She and Li’s chemistry (it comes mostly from her; he’s good here, no miraculous) is very nice. It’s not quite a romance and not quite not.

Director Leterrier’s the film’s greatest asset. His fight scenes utilizes Li’s martial arts abilities in the narrative, but he also brings the human element.

The story’s incredibly simple. It might be entirely free of subplots–for example, Freeman’s great apartment–he tunes pianos–is never explained–so it shouldn’t have much room to go wrong. Except it’s Besson; he eventually decides to dramatically shift the narrative’s course, trashing some great plot threads.

While the film doesn’t live up to its potential, it’s a shame it isn’t more acknowledged. Between Conden’s performance, Leterrier’s direction and even Besson’s script (which starts smart, then goes easy), Danny the Dog is good stuff.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Louis Leterrier; written by Luc Besson; director of photography, Pierre Morel; edited by Nicolas Trembasiewicz; music by Massive Attack; production designer, Jacques Bufnoir; produced by Besson, Jet Li and Steven Chasman; released by Europa Corp.

Starring Jet Li (Danny), Morgan Freeman (Sam), Bob Hoskins (Bart), Kerry Condon (Victoria), Vincent Regan (Raffles), Dylan Brown (Lefty), Tamer Hassan (Georgie) and Michael Jenn (Wyeth).


Léon (1994, Luc Besson), the long version

When he’s doing good work, Luc Besson makes these transcendent films, but even some of his lesser works often have some moments with that quality.

Léon does not.

Many of the elements are there–but something’s off. Maybe it’s something simple, like Jean Reno is supposed to be playing an Italian immigrant who, apparently, just acts really French. Maybe it’s Gary Oldman’s histrionics. But, while both those things are definitely contributors to the film’s general failure, it’s mostly because Besson doesn’t really know what he’s doing with Natalie Portman.

If the film worked, it’d be a brilliant metaphor about her character’s transition into puberty… it’d be the Iron John for girls, only with guns.

And it’s never clear if Besson even realizes he had a real opportunity. One of the major problem’s with Besson’s films are how simplistic he gets when it comes to human emotions. In Léon, he tries hard to talk about emotions as much as possible. But it’s just talk.

Portman’s performance is excellent–so excellent she gave nearly identical performances a couple more times (Beautiful Girls and Heat)–but it should have been clear she didn’t have anywhere else to go. Besson’s characters in Léon are some of his most shallow–quite an achievement since shallowly conceived characters are a Besson staple–but at least Reno and Oldman are somewhat supposed to be ciphers. Portman’s character isn’t, but all the exposition is ludicrous.

Léon‘s a really boring film without much value. But it is competently produced.

1/4

CREDITS

Written and directed by Luc Besson; director of photography, Thierry Arbogast; edited by Sylvie Landra; music by Eric Serra; production designer, Dan Weil; produced by Patrice Ledoux; released by Gaumont.

Starring Jean Reno (Léon), Gary Oldman (Stansfield), Natalie Portman (Mathilda), Danny Aiello (Tony), Peter Appel (Malky), Willi One Blood (1st Stansfield man), Don Creech (2nd Stansfield man), Keith A. Glascoe (3rd Stansfield man), Randolph Scott (4th Stansfield man), Michael Badalucco (Mathilda’s Father), Ellen Greene (Mathilda’s Mother), Elizabeth Regen (Mathilda’s Sister), Carl J. Matusovich (Mathilda’s Brother) and Frank Senger (Fatman).


From Paris with Love (2010, Pierre Morel)

So, coming off their collaborative success of Taken, Morel and producer Luc Besson decide to… make a John Travolta star vehicle? It’s about ten years too late and probably something someone should have made before Battlefield: Earth. I mean, the endless Pulp Fiction references and the awful attempts at Tarantino-esque dialogue. It’s frequently painful.

In fact, the only amusing thing might be seeing the stuntman standing in for Travolta (whose got to be the biggest secret agent in a while), but the editing doesn’t even allow that small pleasure.

From Paris with Love has to be Besson’s biggest failure (at least as a producer of simple action pictures). He didn’t write the script, which is apparently a big mistake, since Paris is all over the place. It tries to use buzz words–terrorist–to get a lot of effect and it’s pretty lame throughout. There’s a compelling train wreck factor to it, however.

Travolta’s a little more restrained in one of the more miscast roles I can remember (it’s clearly a role for someone like Jean Reno) and he’s so wrong for the role, one feels sympathy. Jonathan Rhys Meyers–playing an American with a questionable accent–is awful. I kept waiting for Travolta’s brash, rude secret agent to make a comment about Rhys Meyers’s silly mustache.

Morel’s direction is weak, a bland action movie style. It’d probably be impossible to shoot this script well.

Kasia Smutniak and Richard Durden probably give the only two acceptable performances.

It’s lousy.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Pierre Morel; screenplay by Adi Hasak, based on a story by Luc Besson; director of photography, Michel Abramowicz; edited by Frédéric Thoraval; music by David Buckley; production designer, Jacques Bufnoir; produced by Besson, India Osborne and Virginie Silla; released by EuropaCorp.

Starring John Travolta (Charlie Wax), Jonathan Rhys Meyers (James Reece), Kasia Smutniak (Caroline), Richard Durden (Ambassador Bennington), Yin Bing (M. Wong), Amber Rose Revah (Nichole), Eric Godon (Foreign Minister) and François Bredon (The Thug).


The Transporter (2002, Corey Yuen)

Matt Schulze worked again? Wow, I’m a little surprised. Schulze’s performance in The Transporter–wait, hold on, physical presence might be a more accurate description–is one of the worst things about the film. There really aren’t very many good things about it, though, to be fair to Schulze (is he worse than leading lady Shu Qi, yes, but a lot worse, no). It’s not really a disaster or a train wreck or a peculiarity, it’s just a waste of time.

The biggest culprit is Corey Yuen, who’s got to be one of the worst directors ever to make a film released theatrically by a major studio. Even if Fox just picked up Transporter, come on, he’s awful. He doesn’t understand the script, which might be the biggest problem, if one forgives his utterly lame composition and the rapid-fire editing of the action scenes (even if Jason Statham didn’t know martial arts and they created them in the editing, à la Matt Damon in the Bourne movies, it’d be better), the lack of expression is damning. The script has all these fantastic jokes and Yuen is dead to all of them. It’s tragic. Tragic.

Statham’s great, he and François Berléand are great together. They almost make this nonsense tolerable, then Shu Qi shows up, with writer slash producer Luc Besson objectifying her (and her awful performance) for a prospective American audience.

The Transporter also should not have been shot in Panavision aspect ratio, but good luck with that one.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Corey Yuen; written by Luc Besson and Robert Mark Kamen; director of photography, Pierre Morel; edited by Nicolas Trembasiewicz; music by Stanley Clarke; production designer, Hugues Tissandier; produced by Besson and Steve Chasman; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Jason Statham (Frank Martin), Shu Qi (Lai), Matt Schulze (Wall Street), François Berléand (Inspector Tarconi) and Ric Young (Mr. Kwai).


Transporter 3 (2008, Olivier Megaton)

When an action movie franchise hits the third one (X-Men, Lethal Weapon), they generally know what they’re doing and who they’re making the movie for and instead of producing some wonted exercise, members of this illustrious group of sequels are assured, affable and a lot of fun. The Transporter series is a constant disappointment, since it puts Jason Statham’s likability above his acting ability–so it’s a real surprise to see it join that group.

The film opens with him and sidekick François Berléand fishing together (it’s one of those almost meta moments in fiction, like the Star Trek trio camping) and, even with the lousy editing, it’s lovely. Olivier Megaton’s got some good composition and he can handle a conversation, but the editing is just atrocious–lots of speeding up and slowing down–the fight scenes with Statham are boring. In some ways, it’s a terrible use of Panavision.

Luc Besson, co-writing again, finally gets to put his romance angle in one of the Transporter entries significantly, with love interest Natalya Rudakova. Like most of Besson’s love interests, the age difference between her and her lover is questionable (though not as much as The Professional). But Rudakova turns out to be a real find. She plays the role like an established Russian actress doing her first English language role and she’s not. It’s her first (and, unfortunately, only) film.

Berléand’s great as always, Jeroen Krabbé’s cashing a paycheck, Robert Knepper isn’t a terrible villain.

It’s good stuff.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Olivier Megaton; written by Luc Besson and Robert Mark Kamen; director of photography, Giovanni Fiore Coltellacci; edited by Camille Delamarre and Carlo Rizzo; music by Alexandre Azari; production designer, Patrick Durand; produced by Besson and Steve Chasman; released by Lionsgate.

Starring Jason Statham (Frank Martin), Natalya Rudakova (Valentina), François Berléand (Inspector Tarconi), Robert Knepper (Johnson), Jeroen Krabbé (Leonid Vasilev) and Timo Dierkes (Otto).


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