Starring: Liam Neeson, Famke Janssen, Maggie Grace
Directed by: Pierre Morel (“District B13”)
Written by: Luc Besson (“Unleashed”) and Robert Mark Kamen (“The Transporter”)
Since its released date was pushed back last year by Twentieth Century Fox a few times before landing in U.S. theaters in January 2009, one may wonder why “Taken,” a Liam Neeson-charged action thriller, seemed to finally be tossed out like an insignificant ball on a roulette table.
A theory: The studio had so many appalling movies hit theaters in 2008 (“Meet the Spartans,” “Shutter,” “Meet Dave”), it’s only natural that after being scorched so many times, they would pull their hand away from the fire.
“Taken,” however, isn’t as flawed as other Fox attempts last year like “What Happens in Vegas,” “The Happening,” and “Max Payne.” Basically, it’s a standard offering to the genre that neither scrapes the bottom of the barrel nor makes you hope Neeson wants Matt Damon’s “Bourne” gig in the near future.
In “Taken,” Neeson plays Bryan Mills, an ex-CIA agent who moves cities to be closer to his teenage daughter Kim (Maggie Grace) so he can make up for lost time. Kim lives with her stepfather and mother Lenore (Famke Jenssen) who still holds a grudge against her ex-husband for always prioritizing his job before his family when they were married.
Still, Bryan is ready to be the father he never was and starts by telling Kim he doesn’t want her to go on a trip to Paris that she has planned with her girl friend. Although Bryan is well aware of how dangerous it is for two young female American tourists to be traveling alone, he gives in when he sees how detested he is when playing the role of overprotective father.
His intuition proves to be right, however, when an underground Albanian gang known for human trafficking kidnaps Kim and her friend in Paris. With only a 96-hour window to find her (as a ex-spook he knows this), Bryan jets off to France to use his “particular set of skills” against the men who have taken his daughter.
In a quick and painless 86 minutes, “Taken” is efficient in pacing and delivers some satisfactory fight choreography but fires blanks as an innovative narrative. “Taken” feels so much like other revenge films before it, each scene becomes more and more predictable that the one it follows.
While Neeson is no Harrison Ford, his physicality is believable enough that we can endure his trek across Europe to find his child. But when screenwriters Luc Besson (“Unleashed”) and Robert Mark Kamen (“The Transporter”) give him dialogue like, “I’ll tear down the Eiffel Tower if I have to” to describe his fatherly rage, “Taken” squanders the opportunity to at least be a guilty mindless pleasure.