Directed by Jaume Collet-Serra
Starring Liam Neeson, Diane Kruger, January Jones, Aidan Quinn
2.5 stars

Between “Unknown” and the 2009 thriller “Taken,” Liam Neeson has carved a decent niche for himself as the wronged, sympathetic hero who butt-kicks his way to the bottom of mysteries.

Like “Taken,” which was similarly released during the midwinter movie doldrums, “Unknown” is a pleasant surprise in spite of its formulaic construction. Rather than bombard you with busy plot twists and unnecessary body counts, the movie keeps you rapt with a simple mystery and old-fashioned sleuthing.

Neeson stars as Dr. Martin Harris, a botanist whose trip to a Berlin biotech summit is interrupted when he ends up in a memory-crippling car crash. Upon waking four days later, he finds that everyone he knows — his wife (January Jones), his colleagues, the employees at the hotel where he’s staying — has no idea who he is. What’s more, his wife seems to have replaced him with another man (Aidan Quinn) who claims to be Martin Harris.

The more Neeson insists that the world is conspiring against him, the crazier he appears. With help from a cabbie (Diane Kruger) who was driving the car that he crashed in, he investigates.

“Unknown” is hardly original, but the no-nonsense pacing keeps you on your toes: Is this a case of stolen identity? A portrait of psychosis? Even if you guess the ending, Neeson has a way of making the predictable dialogue sound urgent.

Director Jaume Collet-Serra deserves some credit for essentially staying out of the way. He relies on Neeson’s magnetism to draw you in, and he doesn’t dilly-dally on sentiment. Overall “Unknown” is a trifle of a movie, but it’s worth watching to see Neeson in full take-charge mode.

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