Here’s a little sound advice to all you would-be criminals out there: if the guy whose daughter you have just abducted tells you in a calm, cool, and incredibly collected voice that he’s going to find and kill you, then maybe you should listen. Having listened, it’s then time to get the hell away from whatever city you’re currently in, and if possible, dig a hole halfway to China and learn how to speak Molemanese. But of course, if the criminals in “Taken” were smart, they wouldn’t have just kidnapped Liam Neeson’s daughter in the first place, so maybe the point is moot. Those poor, poor bastards, they haven’t a clue about the world of hurt they’ve brought on themselves.
“Taken” is a Luc Besson picture, so right away you should expect all semblance of real-world logic to fly out the window from frame one. As with all his movies, Besson and co-writer Robert Mark Kamen establish their premise the quickest way they know how, so by minute thirty Maggie Grace has been abducted and Neeson, playing her father, is on his way to Paris for some “man on fire” investigating. And of course by “investigating” I mean he beats up everyone in his path, breaks a dozen or so collar bones, and generally shoots up the place. You know, standard “pissed off father who just happens to be an ex-CIA spy” stuff. And did I mention the torturing? Yeah, he does some of that, too. No outsourcing to a third world country here. This is a guy who likes to get his hands dirty. And of course by “dirty” I mean really, really bloody.
It appears some Albanian scumbags have taken Kim (Grace) the very day she landed in Paris with her BFF Amanda (Katie Cassidy), and they don’t exactly have nice plans for the buoyant 17-year-old. Yes, that’s right, Maggie Grace plays a 17-year-old girl in the movie, and boy does director Pierre Morel (“Banlieue 13”) have no idea how 17-year-old California girls act, because Grace so overdoes the “I’m playing a 17-year-old girl” part that she comes across as more like 12, or maybe 11. Landing in Paris in no time flat thanks to the private jet of his ex-wife’s rich new husband, Bryan (Neeson) begins taking the Albanian white slavery ring apart starting from the very bottom and working his way to the top. Much karate chopping, bone breaking, and bullet firing ensue.
Anyone who has seen “Batman Begins” (or before that, “Rob Roy”) probably won’t be too surprised to learn that the unassuming Liam Neeson, when given the opportunity, can kick ass with the best of them. Certainly a director who knows how to shoot action helps, but Neeson earns his star salary here and is onscreen for pretty much the entire movie. Speaking of action, Besson apprentice Pierre Morel offers up a couple of nifty moments, including a tense sequence that has Bryan literally waltzing into the lion’s den with a smooth as silk con. When Bryan goes into action, it’s fast and swift and most of all brutally to the point. An average looking guy in every respect, Neeson pulls the action off like a champ, delivering precision strikes at throats, arms, and legs as if he’s been doing it his entire life. Of course, rapid-fire editing helps, but then again, doesn’t the phrase “rapid-fire editing” go hand-in-hand with action movies nowadays? Ask Matt Damon if he can really kick all that ass.
Unsurprisingly for a Besson actioner, the supporting cast comes and goes as the plot dictates, leaving no real impression while they were onscreen. Maggie Grace disappears once she’s been kidnapped and doesn’t show up again until the final few minutes. Famke Janssen, as Neeson’s ex, along with her new husband Xander Berkeley are also only there to establish what a deadbeat dad Bryan has been, making his pursuit of his kidnapped daughter all the more desperate. There’s not even a main bad guy for Bryan to pursue, just different rungs of the white slavery ladder to be climbed. It also seems like half of France is involved in the criminal activity, and because Bryan is just so gosh darn efficient, most of them don’t last more than a few scenes before they’re dispatched with extreme prejudice. And just for kicks, Bryan even puts a bullet in one of the bad guy’s apparently innocent old lady. Now that’s hard core.
“Taken” isn’t going to win any awards, but if you’ve seen the trailers, you probably already know that. It’s a smooth actioner, barely 90 minutes long, and the film is one of those high-concept movies sold purely on its single logline: Ex-CIA guy kills half of Paris to get back his kidnapped daughter. Mind you, not that a movie that lives up to its most basic premise is such a bad thing. In fact, knowing Besson, if “Taken” proves to be successful at the box office, I wouldn’t rule out a “Taken 2.” Besson has never been one to shy away from sequels to moderately successful movies; heck, this would just mean he can squeeze out another movie in-between the 20 other action scripts he’s currently involved in next year. Give or take a dozen movies.
Pierre Morel (director) / Luc Besson, Robert Mark Kamen (screenplay)
CAST: Liam Neeson … Bryan
Maggie Grace … Kim
Famke Janssen … Lenore
Xander Berkeley … Stuart
Katie Cassidy … Amanda
Olivier Rabourdin … Jean Claude
Leland Orser … Sam
Jon Gries … Casey