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Thursday, Feb. 24, 2011 05:13 am

Neeson muscles Unknown to success

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It’s odd how one film can change the trajectory of an actor’s career. Since scoring a major international hit with 2008’s Taken, Liam Neeson has become an everyman action star. In the tradition of Harrison Ford and Cary Grant in Hitchcock mode, the actor has effortlessly taken on the role of the ordinary fella who finds himself in extraordinary circumstances, a man who’s forced to act when fate pushes him into a corner. Jaume Collet-Serra’s Unknown expertly mines this premise, throwing Neeson into a situation where he not only has to fight for something he loves but for his very identity.

Botanist Dr. Martin Harris (Neeson) has come to Berlin for a bio-tech conference, a gathering that could solve such minor problems as world hunger and global warming. Obviously, the good doctor must have had these weighty concerns on his mind as he leaves one of his suitcases at the airport. Heading back to get it, he gets into an auto accident that plunges him into a four-day coma. When he awakens, he finds that his wife (January Jones) doesn’t recognize him, another man (Aiden Quinn) is passing as Dr. Harris and he’s left adrift in the streets of Berlin. Retracing his steps as best he can, Harris finds that his taxi driver (Diane Kurger) may be the only person who can help him.

The film moves at a nice clip during its first two acts and doles out the pieces leading to the mystery’s solution at a steady pace. Neeson provides the other necessary element, giving us a sympathetic character who we firmly empathize with. We can’t wait to see him take off the gloves and get down to business, and the film or the actor disappoint. How you end up leaving the movie depends on how open-minded you are to schemes that require every piece falling exactly into place to succeed. I found it all to be a bit of a stretch, but with Neeson being around to set things right, nitpicking at the script seems superfluous.

Contact Chuck Koplinski at ckoplinski@usd116.org.