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Taken **
Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Rossiter Drake*

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Liam Neeson strikes a familiar pose as a former CIA "preventer" in Luc Besson's Taken.

TAKEN
(Courtesy of San Francisco Examiner)

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.

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