“Taken, out of context”
There seems to have been a sudden surge of gynocentric takes on Taken (as it were), with first Never Let Go, and now this. Both concern single mothers with a very particular set of skills, venturing into treacherous foreign territory after their daughters are abducted. In this case, the setting is Belize, where Nina Johnson (Calis) has gone to spend the summer with her boyfriend, volunteering at a local orphanage. When the promised daily contacts stop, single mom and Miami detective Kate (Holden) gets not much in the way of immediate help from the local authorities, and makes a bee-line to Belize so she can investigate on the ground. She’s helped, after some initial doubts, by friendly embassy employee Francisco Orizaga (Degruttola), who has particular skills of his own, being ex-special forces.
They discover Nina has been kidnapped by local cartel, La Muerte Roja (The Red Death), who have branched out from traditional cartel business like drugs, into black market organ transplants. A bar in Punta Dia, visited by Nina, has become ground zero for them, from where they kidnap tourists and turn them into spare parts for their rich clients. It’s up to Nina and her sidekick to track down the base of operations, and free Kate before she becomes a selection box of replacement organs. But that won’t be easy, given how deeply embedded LMR are in the town, and how feared they are by the residents.
There’s a huge plot-hole here, in that the last thing any cartel will ever do is target tourists, for nothing brings down federal heat faster. It’s been that way ever since the murder of Mark Kilroy in the seventies (by a satanist cult who had previously killed and dismembered more than a dozen locals with impunity) and remains the case now. Gangs would far rather sell visitors weed, than do anything which might interfere with a valuable and vital cash cow like tourism. But why let that get in the way of a slice of something which teeters between naked xenophobia and being really guilty about its naked xenophobia. Dammit, pick a side and commit to it, why can’t you.
That aside, this falls squarely into the realm of bland competence. Holden has the desperate mother thing down, yet isn’t as convincing when it comes to playing the tough-nosed detective. I sense that Francisco’s purpose in the script is to handle that heavy lifting, and the resulting dilution is perhaps why this doesn’t work as well as Never Let Go. It’s inoffensive enough: I watched the movie on a plane, and it beat browsing the in-flight magazine for a couple of hours. However, if you’re going for that Taken vibe, it isn’t enough to lift the premise, since the story was likely the least interesting thing there. You need someone who can deliver intensity somewhere in the same ballpark as Liam Neeson, and Holden comes up emphatically short in that department.
Dir: Steven R. Monroe
Star: Gina Holden, Natasha Calis, Raffaello Degruttola, Matthew Ziff