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A pair of February film reviews: Unknown and the Roommate
Two films reviews.
UNKNOWN (2 & a half stars out of 5)
Unknown manages to pull off the tricky feat of getting the audience emotionally involved, but without making any sense at all. The film is enjoyable to watch but if you replay the events in your mind, you'll realize how absurd the whole thing is. Whether or not you enjoy this film depends wholly upon whether or not you're the kind of person who is bothered by plot consistency or if you're someone who can ignore plot holes and just have a good time through the illogic.
Director Jaume Collet-Serra's Unknown is one of those Hitchcockian-style thriller about a common man who is unwilling caught in a massive conspiracy and must get himself out of it with the help of a beautiful woman he meets along the way. It's a standard plot but it's a time-tested one. It's been done well (As in Hitchcock classics like North-by-Northwest and The 39 Steps, among others) and its been done poorly (The Tourist). In this case, it would be somewhat unfair to say Unknown was done poorly because the film is fun. It just doesn't hold up under examination.
The plot revolves around Dr. Martin Harris (Liam Neeson) who arrives in Berlin with his lovely wife Elisabeth (January Jones) for a biotechnology conference. He leaves his vitally important briefcase at the airport and rushes back to get it without telling his wife he's leaving. Beautiful cab driver Gina (Diane Kruger) picks him up and drives him hurriedly back to the airport via a short cut. En route, they get into an accident and the cab ends up in the river. Martin hits his head and passes out but Gina performs a heroic and very impressive rescue.
Martin wakes up from a coma four days later in the hospital without I.D., and is so worried about his wife being alone somewhere in Berlin, he slips out of the hospital and rushes to the reception dinner for the biotech conference to find Elisabeth. When he gets there, no one recognizes him, not ever his wife. Worse yet, there is another Dr. Harris there (Aidan Quinn) who says he's the real deal. And he has I.D. to prove it. Martin is escorted out and is unable to convince anyone that he's the genuine article. He's sent back to the hospital (unescorted) which allows him so escape into the streets of Berlin, where he begins to unravel the mystery, with the help of the very useful Gina, and an ex-Nazi detective named Jurgen (Bruno Ganz). From here on, there are many twists and turns in the plot; some you'll see coming a mile away, although the 'big' plot twist is not so obvious (Even if it isn't very original.)
The plot is potentially intriguing and the film captures your interest, but there are so many inconsistencies and unanswered questions that a nit-picky viewer can't help wonder about. Why did Martin leave his suitcase (with it's very important contents) at the airport? Was that part of the plan? If so, why? And if not, how did the people who arranged the accident (If it was arranged and not a real accident) know he'd be returning immediately to the airport? And how did they know that Gina would take a short cut? Was the accident a freak coincidence or was it staged? If so, why? The answer to these and other questions remain up in the air.
Martin was very lucky to run into Gina, since she proves to be an amazingly brave and resourceful ally. She repeatedly risks her life for him and handles herself with formidable skill throughout the movie. Even when he throws her life into turmoil, she's got his back. Who says cab drivers aren't helpful?
The plot is somewhat reminiscent of Roman Polanski's Frantic, with elements of Total Recall thrown in. Liam Neeson, who has recreated himself as an action star, is fine as the angst-ridden Dr. Harris. January Jones is only required to look pretty and she does that very well. Kruger lends as much sincerity as possible to the cliché role of the beautiful woman who comes into the hero's life and becomes his partner-in-peril. Frank Langella has a relatively small but vital role as the not-as-enigmatic-as-he-should-be Rodney Cole.
Unknown isn't really a bad film. You'll likely find yourself getting caught up in the story, however implausible it is, and that's the real goal of a movie. The film accomplishes its task of being entertaining, as long as you don't think too much about it.
The Roommate (Half a star out of 5 stars)
Many people like low-budget horror films. Sometimes a cheesy , low-budget thriller can be entertaining. Sadly, the Roommate is not entertaining. It is, however, very cheesy and cliched. Director Christian E. Christiansen has cherry-picked plot elements from other, better films and stapled them together in such an unimaginative way that even fans of schlock horror will feel cheated.
You can just imagine director Christiansen at the Pitch Meeting for this film saying, "It's got bits and pieces of a lot of great horror movies, and a bunch of hot teenage girls from the WB network! How can it fail?" Well, fail it does, on almost every level.
The story follows beautiful college freshman Sara (Minka Kelly) who arrives for her first day at college, bright-eyed and bushy tailed. She makes several friends and quickly meets a hunky love interest. Into Sara's happy life comes her sexy dorm roommate Rebecca (Leighton Meester). Although she is gorgeous on the outside, Rebecca is socially awkward and doesn't make any friends except for Sara, who becomes the center of Rebecca's life. Rebecca becomes obsessed with Sara, and wants Sara all to herself, even if it means destroying everyone else in Sara's life. Sara remains blissfully oblivious to Rebecca's machinations, despite several warnings, until late in the film, when things start to spiral ridiculously out of control.
The plot rips off the basic premise of the superior Single White Female, as well as the shower scene from Hitchcock's Psycho. And while Rebecca doesn't exactly boil a rabbit, she does something similar to the bunny scene in Fatal Attraction.
It's also a bit distasteful that mental illness is portrayed the same as being evil in this film. Rebecca is supposed to be on medication (which she isn't taking) after being diagnosed with a mental ailment. She is lonely and vulnerable, and should be a sympathetic character but the movie depicts her as a Hannibal Lechter-type of maniacal murderer.
Young men may like this film because Meester, Kelly, Alyson Michalka, Danneel Harris and the other young WB beauties make good eye-candy. But if you're looking for good scares, a good plot or good acting, I'd suggest renting Single White Female, Psycho and all the other horror films that The Roommate steals from.