One of our favorite treats in Bangkok is a visit to one of the elaborate, high-tech cinemas at Siam Paragon, one of the ultra-malls (small cities composed entirely of glitzy retail properties) in the heart of town. Last visit, we gave the gold-standard theatre a try, sitting through a terrible Jackie Chan movie while relaxing in a huge, leather-upholstered couch. This time around, we bought tickets to a showing of 'Taken 2' -- another movie we'd normally skip -- just to try out the Paragon Cineplex's 4D theatre.
After ponying up about $40.00 for tickets, a bucket of popcorn, and two cups of Coke Zero, we made our way into one of the most elaborate theaters I've ever seen. Each row features densely padded seats with extended footrests -- the sort of seating that would look right at home in a jetliner's First Class section. But what makes the theatre "4D" is a concealed system of lights, fans, hydraulics, aerosol spritzers, and vibrators that deliver flashes (for lightning or gunshots), breeze, jolts (for car crashes), and sprays of mist (for river scenes or stabbings).
During 'Taken 2,' the system worked like this: during car chases, our seats threw us violently from left to right. Every time Liam Neeson shot a foe, we felt the impact of the bullet in our guts. When he punched a bad guy in the face, a stream of the villain's saliva smacked us in the face. During knife fights, puffs of air hit us in the ears.
The problem is this: in the end, the seat's vocabulary of effects is too limited ... and, as a result, effects intended to enhance the viewing experience become tedious and distracting. You can only be rocked, jolted, vibrated, sprayed, and puffed so many times before being rocked, jolted, vibrated, sprayed, and puffed assumes a "been there, done that" quality. Thirty minutes into the movie, all the theatre's surprises have been exhausted ... and we could very quickly anticipate (or dread) what effect would accompany the action on-screen.
And not even all these effects could help a stink-bomb like 'Taken 2.' It is, I'm sorry to say, the worst kind of movie: one that has no respect for itself, its characters, or its audience. During a Mexican standoff, the bad guys with guns very patiently wait while Liam Neeson pulls out his iPhone, calls his daughter, and delivers an elaborate explanation of everything that will happen next. After establishing that Liam Neeson's daughter cannot drive or even parallel park, her character takes the wheel during a car chase through Istanbul and manages everything from hairpin turns to ramping stunts. And as a way to help her kidnapped father gauge how far away she is from his cell, Liam's daughter runs from rooftop to rooftop lobbing hand grenades into cars and buildings ... an act which draws absolutely zero attention from police or anyone else.
You can get away with a lot in Istanbul, but wreaking havoc so Daddy can hear you getting closer to the bad guy's hideaway? I think not.
In the end, a great movie has everything needed to deliver shocks, jolts, and a sense of wonder ... but no amount of shaking, throbbing, of puffing of mist can distract the audience from sloppy, by-the-numbers filmmaking.