Dr. Martin Harris (Liam Neeson, "Taken") is in Berlin with his wife (January Jones, AMC's 'Mad Men') for a biotechnology summit when he realizes he is missing his briefcase. On the taxi ride to retrieve it, though, he's in a horrible accident. Taxi driver Gina (Diane Kruger, "Inglourious Basterds") pulls him out of her sinking cab and disappears. Four days later, Martin awakens from a coma and rushes back to his hotel where he finds Elizabeth claiming another man for a husband and himself as a person "Unknown."
Liam Neeson surprised as a late-blooming action hero in last year's "Taken," and it's clear that this film is being targeted to the same audience, but while it's a classier production, sporting some pretty big names in support, it's nowhere near as fun. It would be a spoiler to say which franchise "Unknown" is copping from (um, it starred Matt Damon, also paired with a German actress), but this attempt at crossing that with Hitchcockian overtones just ends up underwhelming, despite some genuinely good moments and misdirection.
The cab crash is a doozy, the first of a trio of cabs that will be wrecked while Kruger's driving. It is also impressive just how strong an impression Karl Markovics ("The Counterfeiters") and Eva Löbau ("Inglourious Basterds") make as Martin's doctor and nurse team in Berlin. His return to the Hotel Adlon and an unwelcoming wife, though, has been overexposed in the film's trailer. But then Martin has a flash back to '224422,' the cab badge number swinging on the rear view mirror as he plunged into the river and he is able to trace that back to Gina (why a subsequent cab is marked '224422' when the prior cab was thoroughly trashed is a bit of a mystery). He's also been directed to a private investigator, former Stasi agent Ernst Jürgen (Bruno Ganz, "Wings of Desire," "Downfall"), a man whose competence will prove his own downfall.
Some individual scenes play well. When Martin returns to the hospital, he's captured by the man (Olivier Schneider, "Taken") who was following him on the subway and there is a death that really saddens, a rarity in these types of films. Martin sneaks into the lab of his seminar host, Professor Bressler (Sebastian Koch, "The Lives of Others"), where he and his doppelganger Martin (Aidan Quinn, "The Eclipse," "Flipped") try to prove their unmet past with the man chanting the same information at the same time. A photography exhibit at an art museum proves the ideal locale for a three-way game of cat and mouse.
But overall, the story, adapted by Oliver Butcher & Stephen Cornwell from the novel "Out of My Head," has too many elements and the central mystery, once solved, just about flattens its tires. Neeson is a better badass when he has some rage fueling him. Bruno Ganz steals every scene he is in with his unusual character choices and Koch really humanizes the type of character normally relegated to the background. Diane Kruger is convincing and puts across back story in her role, but after "Inglourious Basterds" we want her to wow us again. January Jones is fine, but her icy Hitchcock blond character doesn't give her a lot of room to expand her range. Frank Langella ("Frost/Nixon," "All Good Things") makes a late appearance in the type of role he's tried on before as well.
Director Jaume Collet-Serra ("Orphan") uses Berlin landmarks early on, saving 'inner' Berlin for later goings, a nice perspective on Martin's conundrum, and he knows how to stage a chase scene (with help from editor Tim Alverson, who doesn't lose his audience with slice 'n dice). But he lets his film flag just when it should be climaxing. CGI work in final scenes is mediocre. Even the film's title is wanting.
Robin did not see this film.
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