City Paper is not for tourists
Is it possible to develop Stockholm syndrome before you’re certain who your captors are? In Simon Brand’s directorial debut, Unknown, five men wake up trapped in a warehouse, some bound, some free, all bloodied. Everybody’s memory is wiped out, though it becomes clear that a kidnapping has taken place and a few of them must run with the ski-mask crowd. So sure, there’s an air of aggression. But does that mean they can’t take a timeout from all the glowering to, say, whistle “Ode to Joy” together or politely listen to a looong telling of someone’s sudden childhood recollection? Admittedly, these are the most ridiculous moments from the movie—the remaining are merely as lulling as the narratively convenient brain-blanking gas that knocked out the guys in the first place. Unknown, written by first-timer Matthew Waynee, does have an interesting premise: What’s a good defense against a wild-card offense? It’s rather Reservoir Dogs, of course, but points to Waynee for at least cribbing from one of the best. And the amnesia factor amps up the existential quandary. There’s a solid cast, too, including Jim Caviezel, Greg Kinnear, and Joe Pantoliano. But even the old pros can’t do much with a script whose dialogue is occasionally torturous (“I may have been born at night, but not last night!”) and whose story goes nowhere (randomly flip-flopping alliances dominate the action). Brand sometimes leaves the warehouse to glimpse the investigation of the case—which involves the abduction of two suits for ransom money—but these scenes just muck up the puzzle instead of adding momentum or illumination. Slightly more effective are a couple of characters’ flashbacks, though they, too, zap by so quickly and cloudily that the device is just more grist for the filmmakers’ what-now? mill. Like many twisty thrillers, Unknown is resolved in a manner that is shruggingly passable, its details sure to vanish by the time you remember where you parked your car.