Liam Neeson plays Bryan Mills, a former U.S. government spy (think
Halliburton-type badass mercenary) who has been keeping the world safe,
albeit at the emotional cost of his family. His ex-wife Lenore (Famke
Janssen) is a lost cause, now that she has a wealthy second hubby in
tow, but Bryan believes that by giving up the covert life he can
somehow re-bond with Kim (Lost’s Maggie Grace), his 17-year-old daughter.
Kim, however, immediately announces her
desire to take a Parisian vacation with her gal pal Amanda (Katie
Cassidy). Her wary dad—who knows the dangers that can exist for young
women in a distant land, yet wants the renewed relationship between
them to click—hesitantly agrees to the trip. Turns out father knows
best: Straight from Orly Airport, Kim and Amanda are quickly stalked
and then swiped by a gaggle of Albanian thugs who plan to sell the
girls into prostitution. (Didn’t these kids see the Hostel movies?)
Kim frantically calls her dad before she
is grabbed, however, as a slowly simmering Bryan overhears (and
records) the entire kidnapping, so there are enough verbal clues that
Bryan’s espionage buddy Sam (Leland Orser) can help pinpoint where the
bad guys are. But Bryan must go it alone with his rescue mission,
although that doesn’t stop him from bull-in-a-china-shop behavior
during his trackdown.
Director Pierre Morel first scored with the 2004 martial-arts thriller District B13, so he’s adept when it comes to choreographing the crisp action sequences that goose Taken
to its finish line. Morel is aided by all the mayhem that’s allowable
in a PG-13, which means little in the way of blood-filled squibs,
although there are lots of broken bones and smashed kissers along the
way. Taken’s real auteur, however, is producer and
co-screenwriter Luc Besson, here offering a slight thematic variation
on the male-female relationships that drove his La Femme Nikita and The Professional.
Obviously more concerned with the need for speed, Besson’s
script—co-written with his frequent partner Robert Mark Kamen—is a
wildly improbable affair, especially when Neeson’s Bryan skates through
dire situations aplenty with barely a scratch.
Still, Taken offers some scary
considerations of our post-Sept. 11 world. When spy guy Sam tells Bryan
that he has a 96-hour window to liberate his daughter, thus
encompassing factors such as the kidnapping, to rendering Kim a hophead
with forced smack shoot-ups, to her sale to the highest bidder by the
flesh peddlers, it shows how both heroes and villains are hot-wired
into the global template.
Besson and Kamen aren’t above cliches,
either; the Albanian creeps end up being connected to members of
Parisian high society, such as the snotty megalomaniac who supervises
the beating of the captured Bryan, then tells his henchmen, “Kill him
quietly. I have guests.” And the girls don’t know—but viewers sure
do—that when a seemingly innocent Frenchman named Peter (Nicolas
Giraud) charms them with his tortured warbling of the Beach Boys’
“California Girls,” he’s got to be a Eurotrash villain with nastiness
on his mind.
Before Bryan gets all Bronson on their
asses, Neeson projects a sense of dour dyspepsia during the first
reel’s clunky domestic scenes. His glowering puss during the tirades of
his former spouse Lenore (Janssen gets stuck in this can’t-win role)
suggests that he wouldn’t mind waterboarding her, too. Yet Neeson’s
cipher of a character seems deliberate, perhaps because that helps
distance Bryan from his moments of extreme action. “It’s only a flesh
wound!” Bryan barks after shooting an unarmed woman, all in a bid to
extract information from a dubious source.
And in Taken’s most audience-rousing interlude,
Bryan straps a kidnapper into a makeshift electric chair for grilling,
so to speak. Bryan precedes his inquisition with a reference that
sometimes this brand of torture doesn’t work in Third World countries
because of the iffy power supply—but since no electrical problems like
that exist in France, be prepared for some shock treatment. Somewhere
in an undisclosed location, Dick Cheney is smiling.