Yesterday afternoon I saw Unknown (Warner Bros., 2.18), the latest European-set Liam Neeson paycheck actioner. I haven’t time to review it now, but it’s not bad in a “somewhat better than meh” sort of way. It’s nowhere near the level of the Bourne films, but it’s actually a touch more plausible than Taken, for what that’s worth. And it offers a winning, at times amusing performance from Bruno Ganz, so at least there’s that.
I do think, however, based on the obligatory and run-of-the-mill car-chase sequence in this film, that it’s finally time to retire the two-vehicle chase once and for all. It’s always been a stupid fantasy that one car could chase another at ridiculously high speeds for ten or twelve minutes through a major city like San Francisco (home of the original Big Kahuna car chase in Bullitt) or Paris (where the great Bourne Identity and Ronin car chases occured) or New York (The Bourne Ultimatum) or Berlin (where Unknown is set), and not have something or someone put an end to it fairly quickly.
Car chases are fine, but you have to introduce (a) traffic jams, (b) much more chaos, (c) cops and (d) the sudden abandonment of cars and/or motorcycles and running on foot and then the pursued figuring out an escape or a hiding place (nobody ever hides in a dumpster!) as he/she runs along.
You need cops most of all. Never in the history of movie car chases has a cop car ever gone in pursuit of both the chased and the chaser and pulled one of them over and given them a ticket (or cuffed them) for reckless endangerment. Not once.
Every so often you need the hunter to simply lose the hunted because of traffic snarls or a slow truck or moving van. And every so often a hunted party has to abandon the vehicle and get out and run like hell, like Matt Damon‘s Jason Bourne has done (I think) at least once. And every so often a pursued party has to steal an unlikely vehicle — a U.P.S. delivery van or a kid’s bicycle or an ice cream truck. Or — here’s a good one — the pursued has to throw a 70 year-old lady out of her car and drive off with it, and then the car runs poorly or runs out of gas. And when’s the last time a chaser went after somebody who was riding a train, like in The French Connection?
And that was just off the top of my head, There are so many different ways to enliven or reshuffle the chase formula, and yet filmmakers, it seems, rarely throw in any wackadoo moves. Or banal ones.