Starring: Liam Neeson, Maggie Grace, Famke Janssen, Leland Orser, Jon Gries. Rated PG-13.
If you’ve seen the commercials for
Taken, the preposterous new thriller
from Luc Besson’s EuropaCorp production company, chances are good that you’re
already familiar with the finer points of its story. Liam Neeson plays a former
CIA agent whose daughter is kidnapped by a gang of sex traffickers, leaving him
to wage a one-man war on those responsible.
What distinguishes this bit of
vigilante escapism from the popular Death Wish formula – besides Neeson himself,
whose turn as a
flesh-and-blood terminator is one-dimensional but modestly engaging – is that
it’s set in Besson’s native Paris. Beyond that, Taken is a routine genre
exercise that wisely banks on Neeson’s
charisma to smooth over some of the rougher passages in Besson and Robert Mark
Kamen’s unremarkable script.
Neeson has played this kind
character before, as a freakishly disfigured avenger in Sam Raimi’s Darkman
and a hillbilly
assassin in the underappreciated Next of Kin. Here, his performance is slightly less
nuanced – Bryan
Mills, his erstwhile spook, has none of Darkman’s vulnerabilities, much less
Briar Gates’ rough-hewn, born-on-the-bayou charm. But Neeson remains the film’s
greatest asset, elevating an otherwise turgid late-night movie-of-the-week
candidate into something more passably entertaining.
If that sounds like an
endorsement, it’s not. While Darkman
and Next of Kin seemed to recognize and
playfully exploit their absurdities for laughs, Taken is a mostly humorless affair
that treats Bryan’s quest for
vengeance as very serious business indeed. Taken as a righteous stand against
the low-level terrorists who peddle flesh in the back alleys of Europe, the
movie is a lurid sham, as slick and soulless as the myriad thugs Bryan
dispatches with implausible ease. Taken as a mindless adrenaline rush in the
same vein as Besson and Kamen’s Transporter series, it’s more forgivable,
but hardly worthwhile.