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Is the world ready for yet another movie that features amnesia as it’s major plot device? This tired old formula gets a slick makeover in director Jaume Collet-Serra’s “Unknown,” which stars Liam Neeson as a man who loses his memory after a horrific car accident.

Neeson plays Dr. Martin Harris, a botanist who arrives in Berlin with his lovely young wife (January Jones, so good in “Mad Men,” but a complete mess in this) in tow. He’s going to be giving an address at a biotechnology conference. Discovering that his briefcase has been left at the airport, he hops back in a cab. The cab is involved in a terrible crash and Harris is plunged into a coma.

After awaking four days later, he’s upset to learn that no one, not even his wife, has come to look for him. You see, he hasn’t exactly lost all of his memory – just bits and pieces. Checking himself out of the hospital, he returns to the hotel where he left his wife, only to discover she doesn’t recognize him AND she apparently has a new husband, also named Dr. Martin Harris (Aidan Quinn).

To say much more would involve spoiling the plot developments, but I must say, there is a pretty clever twist near the end that I didn’t see coming.

And yet, this solid B-movie doesn’t quite satisfy as much as it could. There is a cold distance to the characters that takes you out of the movie rather than drawing you into Harris’ situation. It takes a couple of stabs at some larger themes – the nature of identity, the plight of illegal aliens, the future of our food supplies – but the screenplay and direction stay strictly on the surface of the material.

Neeson is quite good, but his performance is upstaged by both Bruno Ganz, as an ex-Stasi agent who helps him on his journey, and Frank Langella, as Harris’ academic colleague. Diane Kruger (nominated for her performance in last years “Inglorious Bastard”) does the best she can with her role, and she’s always interesting to watch.

Ultimately, “Unknown” is pretty nifty thriller that gets the job done – plot twists, a couple of great car chases, some suspenseful sequences – but you can’t help but wonder what this could have been in the hands of a more capable director.

UNKNOWN – Dir: Jaume Collet-Serra; STARS: Liam Neeson, Diane Kruger, January Jones, Aidan Quinn. Rated PG-13


Movie Review by Mike Danner