February, 2009, Thriller

Directed by:Pierre Morel

Starring:Liam Neeson, Famke Janssen, Maggie Grace, Xander Berkeley, Holly Valance, and Katie Cassidy

If you add 20 years, half a foot in extra height and just the trace of an Irish accent, you have Liam Neeson’s version of the Jason Bourne character that Matt Damon’s developed into one of films most successful current action heroes. French cinematographer-turned-director Pierre Morel, (B-13) delivers this low-rent knockoff of the Bourne franchise with maximum emphasis on non-stop detonations and escalating body counts while pointedly ignoring qualities like subtly and nuance. Only Neeson’s presence keeps this one from careening off into unintended genre parody.

Neeson plays Bryan Mills, an ex-CIA man with extensive international experience on his resume who’s reduced to doing celebrity security gigs in Los Angles so he can be closer to his teen age daughter Kim. She’s currently living with Lenore, Bryan’s ex and her new husband. When Kim is invited to join her friend Amanda on a European summer vacation that will begin in Paris, Mills is understandably worried about two un-chaperoned high-school graduates on the loose, but Lenore, contemptuous of Mills’ concerns, finally extracts his reluctant consent to the trip. 

No sooner do Kim and Amanda arrive in Paris, than they’re kidnapped by a gang of Albanian thugs who make their living in the sex trade. With some assistance from his CIA colleagues, (and a private jet provided by Kim’s step-father) Mills races to Paris, gleans clues from Kim’s panic-stricken cell phone message about her abduction and goes on a rampage of efficiently executed mayhem as he works his way down into the cess-pool of those who handle the merchandise of forced prostitution and back up into the world of wealthy buyers seeking the product. Using tactics that range from trickery to torture to summary execution, Mills locates his daughter as she’s about to be spirited away into the 21st century version of a Middle-Eastern harem, blowing up, (literally and metaphorically) an army of really disgusting baddies. Dad escorts daughter back into the arms of her now chastened mother.

Taken delivers nothing new; just a distillation of genre elements already in danger of serious overuse, especially in the all-but-incoherent car chase scenes. But give the director his due…there’s an atavistic intensity in the 93 brief minutes of this movie that will elevate anyone’s adrenalin level and Neeson’s broad-shouldered, no-holds-barred style works surprisingly well for an actor on the sunny side of 55. (Whether an actor of his considerable talent should have taken a role like this is another issue altogether.)

The movie was co-written and produced by Luc Besson, France’s one-man answer to the mainstream Hollywood studio system that’s been grinding out this kind of fare for decades. Besson works at a torrid pace, creating films with Western European locales and carefully selected international casts deliberately focused on an increasingly worldwide movie-going public. If ticket sales run up encouragingly, he’s capable of quickly capitalizing on these successes by generating an endless stream of sequels (witness The Transporter trilogy the two Crank movies, all 5 starring Jason Statham and delivered to audiences in less than 60 months). This pictorial ode to rampant violence may strike some as curiously timed, given the recent moderation of the political climate here in the U.S., but Taken earned top honors at the box-office during its opening week, so don’t be surprised if Mr. Neeson finds himself being importuned to reprise his strong-arm tactics as Brian Mills once again. 

The verdict/ Wham-bam and you’re dead, man.

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