Poor Liam Neeson has once again found himself all alone in Europe, on the hunt for a group of people who’ve seriously pissed him off by stealing the most important woman in his life. It’s unknown how many of these roles he’ll have taken by the time his career is over.
“Unknown,” based on the novel "Out of My Head" by Didier van Cauwelaert, finds Dr. Martin Harris (Neeson) as the victim of the world’s most complete case of identity theft. Shortly after arriving with his wife (January Jones) in Berlin, Harris awakens in a hospitable bed, having barely survived when his cab, driven by Gina (Diane Kruger), plunged into a river. When Martin finally returns to his hotel, he finds some other guy (Aidan Quinn) claiming to be him, and everyone, even his wife, seems to agree.
The film gets off to a plodding start, as director Jaume Collet-Serra (“Orphan,” “House of Wax”) takes his sweet time getting his pieces in place before getting out of second gear, but once he does, “Unknown” is a crisp action-thriller, featuring a pretty ripping car chase (do not—repeat—do not ever get in a car with Diane Kruger) and enough twists and turns to keep things interesting. Unfortunately, the relationship between Harris and Gina is as clunky as it is predictable, and the big reveal is so flat it barely registers.
Bruno Ganz (you know all those clips on YouTube of Hitler yelling? That’s Ganz) is hilarious as a private eye who learned his trade as a member of the Stasi, the notorious East German secret police, a line on his resume of which he is both proud and unapologetic. He goes a long way toward keeping things fun.
Whoever casts the next movie of “The Stepford Wives” will surely call January Jones, who is a wooden as she is beautiful. On “Mad Men” her disaffected monotony works, but when she’s got two husbands and finds herself in the midst of some international intrigue, she can’t even clench her jaw.
Movies like “Unknown" - even the best of them - often ask you to let a few things slide, and here it’s no different. The level of planning required of the powers that be to supplant another human being is insane, but they can’t hire an efficient hit man? This is Germany, for heaven’s sake, efficiency is their calling card.
For all its faults, “Unknown” is a pleasant enough genre diversion, and certainly the best of Neeson’s more recent films.
"Unknown" opens nationally on Feb. 18