Movie Review: The Thriller 'Taken,' With Liam Neeson
Friday, January 30, 2009
A satisfying little thriller as grimly professional as its efficient hero, "Taken" pairs the ruthless hand-to-hand combat of the Bourne series with the potent child-in-peril plotline of a Lifetime original movie. Liam Neeson plays an ex-CIA spook who trains his deadly skills on the Albanian slavers who've kidnapped his daughter. The resulting close-quarters combat, car chases and gunfights are well executed and exciting, and the attendant exploitation is underplayed just enough so you don't feel too bad about yourself afterward.
Bryan Mills retired from his CIA job to be closer to his daughter, 17-year-old Kim (Maggie Grace, noticeably 25), who lives in California with her ice-queen mother (Famke Janssen, in a role even more thankless than all her other thankless roles including her recent turn as a humorless ice queen in "The Wackness"). Neeson's unparalleled ability to stand around with his hands glumly stuffed in his pockets is showcased in an opening sequence in which Bryan brings Kim a karaoke machine for her birthday, only to see her stepfather (Xander Berkeley) give her a pony.
Kim wants to spend the summer following U2 around Europe despite the qualms of her dad, who sees danger around every corner. Needless to say, Bryan was right: Paris, in this far-fetched flick, anyway, is a well-known hotbed of kidnappers targeting wealthy American girls. Kim is nabbed less than an hour after landing at Charles de Gaulle, and it falls to her father to rescue her from the sex-slavery ring that plans to sell her to a sheik. Never one to say "I told you so," Neeson flies to Paris with the clock ticking on the defilement of his (virginal, it's repeatedly pointed out) little girl.
But if you can look past the ludicrous (and morally suspect) premise of "Taken," you're rewarded with the sight of Neeson -- an actor criminally underused by Hollywood -- tearing through the Parisian underworld, karate-chopping left and right, shooting anyone who gets between him and his daughter. The idea of Neeson, 6 feet tall with that aquiline nose, passing unnoticed through the back alleys of Paris is a hilarious one, and director Pierre Morel takes great pleasure in filming Neeson towering over the criminals he confronts -- from the grimy Albanian kidnappers to the louche American middleman to the corpulent Middle Eastern sheik who adds Kim to his harem.
"Taken" is perhaps best viewed as a cautionary tale for nervous fathers. Its message: Dads, don't let your little girls go anywhere or do anything, ever.
Taken (91 minutes, at area theaters) is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence, disturbing thematic material, sexual content, some drug references and language.