Video Verdict: New DVDs for May 12

Liam Neeson stars as Bryan Mills, a former government operative who will stop at nothing to save his kidnapped daughter in "Taken."

Liam Neeson stars as Bryan Mills in "Taken."

This week’s DVD releases are anchored by a prequel to the popular “Underworld” franchise and an action-packed thriller featuring Liam Neeson.

 

Taken
3 stars
DVD contains rated and unrated versions of the film. The rated version received a PG-13 for intense sequences of violence, disturbing thematic material, sexual content, some drug references and language
20th Century Fox
Available on: DVD and Blu-ray

Liam Neeson takes his transition to action hero one step further in director Pierre Morel’s ludicrous-yet-entertaining drama about a former spy who wages a vendetta against Paris’ criminal underworld.

Sure, Neeson played tough guys in “Star Wars: The Phantom Menace” and “Batman Begins,” but he’s never been as ruthless as he is as Bryan Mills, a U.S. operative who left active duty to spend more time with his daughter, Kim (Maggie Grace). His plan is derailed when Kim goes to Europe for a summer vacation and promptly gets kidnapped. Thankfully, Bryan’s unique set of skills make him just the man to track down her abductors.

Neeson is a charming actor, and his performance is enjoyable and believable, even when the movie’s plotting is over the top. In fact, everyone involved in the picture, particularly Morel, deserves a hand for elevating the material beyond its genre roots.

In “Taken,” the bad guys are nasty and one-dimensional, the good guys aren’t always good, and the pacing is breathless. If that doesn’t have you sold, you must not be a fan of Hollywood action flicks.

The movie is available on multiple DVD configurations, including a two-disc extended edition. Extra features vary.

 

Underworld: Rise of the Lycans
2 1/2 stars
Rated R for bloody violence and some sexuality
Screen Gems
Available on: DVD, Blu-ray and UMD for PSP

You know a franchise is lightweight when a prequel minus two marquis stars is better than all previous entries. But, hey, the “Underworld” series wasn’t meant to be “Citizen Kane.” It’s a lark about the ongoing battle between werewolves and vampires.

“Rise of the Lycans” is a departure from previous efforts because former stars Kate Beckinsale and Scott Speedman are missing in action, placing the focus squarely on Lucian (Michael Sheen), one of the first werewolves.

The movie considers his early days, as well as his love for Sonja (Rhona Mitra), daughter of the powerful vampire king, Viktor (Bill Nighy).

Because Viktor is an underworld snob, he has enslaved Lucian and all other werewolves, forcing them to work at his command. Sonja is more progressive, but her father’s rules still create a strain between she and Lucian.

That leaves viewers with a picture that mixes gothic horror with “Romeo and Juliet,” and the result is surprisingly entertaining. There’s nothing inventive or surprising about “Lycans,” but it isn’t nearly as dull as its predecessors, and the special effects are wonderful.

The film was directed by Patrick Tatopoulos, a first-time helmer who oversaw the visual effects for the first two movies, and he does a credible job with the slight material.

The plotting is too fluffy and closely tied to the previous movies to merit a hearty recommendation, but “Lycans” is still a solid choice for anyone with a soft spot for vampire drama.

The movie is available on multiple home video configurations including the Underworld Trilogy set, which contains all three of the movies in the franchise. Extra features include an audio commentary and several behind-the-scenes featurettes.

 

ALSO OUT THIS WEEK

Assorted “Star Trek” releases: The new “Star Trek” feature film has prompted several video releases, including Star Trek: The Original Motion Picture Collection and Star Trek: Motion Picture Trilogy. The latter set includes Blu-ray releases of “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan,” “Star Trek III: The Search for Spock” and “Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home.” The former includes those three features plus “Star Trek: The Motion Picture,” “Star Trek V: The Final Frontier” and “Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country.” Other “Trek” releases include the Best of Star Trek: The Original Series and the Best of Star Trek: The Next Generation, each containing four episodes from their respective TV series.

“Taking Chance”: HBO movie starring Kevin Bacon as Lt. Col. Michael Strobl, a military veteran who volunteers to escort the remains of a fallen Marine back to his hometown.

“Wise Blood”: Criterion Collection release of director John Huston’s 1979 drama about a recently discharged military veteran who tries to open the first Church Without Christ in a small town.

Disney Animation Collection: The Mouse House is trotting out three new discs containing classic shorts. The titles are “The Tortoise and the Hare,” “Wind in the Willows” and “The Reluctant Dragon.” Each disc includes the title movie plus a handful of other shorts.

“Seth McFarlane’s Cavalcade of Cartoon Comedy”: A collection of 50 irreverent animated shorts from the creator of “Family Guy” and “American Dad.”

“High Hopes”: Direct-to-DVD feature about a group of friends who plot to steal a case of fenced marijuana and return it to the government for a reward. Jason Mewes, Corin Nemec, Lacey Chabert, Andy Dick and Edward Furlong star.

“The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin”: Every episode of the British sitcom about a stressed out executive is available on this four-disc set from E1 Entertainment. The series stars Leonard Rossiter, Pauline Yates, Sue Nichols and Geoffrey Palmer.

“Passengers”: Independent thriller starring Anne Hathaway as a psychotherapist asked to treat the survivors of a plane crash. But as her patients begin to slowly disappear, she suspects foul play. Patrick Wilson and Clea DuVall also star.

“S. Darko”: Direct-to-DVD sequel to the 2001 thriller “Donnie Darko.” The picture focuses on Samantha Darko (Daveigh Chase), younger sister to Donnie, who begins having disturbing dreams about the end of the universe.

“Speed Racer the Next Generation — Comet Run the Movie”: Three episodes from the “Speed Racer the Next Generation” animated TV series merged into one 63-minute feature.

 

Forrest Hartman is an independent film critic whose byline has appeared in some of the nation’s largest publications. E-mail him at Forrest@ForrestHartman.com

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