by Robert Nesti

EDGE National Arts & Entertainment Editor

Friday January 30, 2009

Liam Neeson in "Taken."
Liam Neeson in "Taken."  

The moral to Taken is don't mess with Liam Neeson. In this slick, ludicrous thriller the Irish actor plays Rambo Dad - an ex-CIA agent who acts like a 50-ish Jason Bourne as he pursues his daughter's kidnappers through seedier sections of Paris. He is a force to be reckoned with as he kills, maims and tortures the mostly Albanian and Arab kidnappers with grim purpose; yet it is impossible not to wonder, what Neeson is doing in junk like this?

The premise has Neeson playing an ex-CIA agent named Bryan Mills, who has retired to Los Angeles to be closer to the daughter, named Kim (Maggie Grace,) he ignored while off on covert operations. It's an uphill battle: his bitchy wife Lenore (Famke Janssen) has remarried a Beverly Hills tycoon, who splurges Kim with a pony on her 17th birthday. All Mills can give her is a karaoke machine. He complicates his tenuous relationship with Kim by turning down her request for a Paris holiday with a friend. Doesn't she know, cranky spoilsport Dad complains, that there is evil out there?

Against his better judgment, he relents, only to be earwitness to Kim's kidnapping from a swanky Parisian apartment by a group of Albanians who profit in sex trafficking unsuspecting young women. When he learns he has but 96 hours to keep Kim from becoming a drug-addled hooker, he's on a private jet to Paris to busts some Albanian heads.

Along the way he recruits the help of an old colleague, Jean-Claude (Olivier Rabourdin), he knew from his CIA days. Jean-Claude, now firmly established in the French intelligence bureaucracy, is reluctant to help for reasons that aren't initially clear; but once revealed give reason to understand why Mills makes such a lousy dinner guest.

The film, directed by Pierre Morel, moves with such speed that the holes in the plot are neatly obscured; though the violence and sensationalism are not. At one point Mills tortures an Albanian criminal with a method that would likely make Dick Cheney proud. At another he shoots up the yacht of an Arab sheik whose agent purchased Kim at an exclusive auction. That auction and a visit to a makeshift brothel for construction workers are amongst the film's more lurid highlights.

Throughout the film Neeson moves with the speed of a 20 year old, has the strength of ten men and the intelligence of a Mensa member; all of which is highly improbable, but doesn't seem to impede the enjoyment of the film by its target audience. Though you wonder why the distributor would choose to release this actioner on Super Bowl weekend when most 18-25 year old males are watching football.

While only co-written by French action director Luc Besson, his hand is all over the film - it is arty, nonsensical, violent action. Perhaps it was felt that corralling a star of Neeson's stature would add a human dimension to the plot's cartoonish nonsense. To his credit he does pursue the criminals with a steely determination that convincingly underscores the Avenging American Dad theme. Adding to its jingoistic subtext is that the bad guys come from countries with large Muslim populations. Already, though, the film feels old hat, like some relic from the Bush years. Little wonder it is finding its way to theaters on the worst weekend of the year to release a film. May it quietly slip into obscurity.



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Robert Nesti can be reached at [email protected].