Anyone thinking Pierre Morel’s Taken might be something more than the exploitative B-movie revenge schlock that it is should think again. Seemingly due to a lead role by Liam Neeson, the movie traipses around with a vague sheen of respectability, when in reality it’s more akin to the kind of material some generic muscle-bound WWE wrestler should be starring in.
The setup is simple, with Neeson playing Bryan Mills, a former spy (though technically, according to the film, he was a “preventer,” whatever that means). It seems Bryan was a pretty negligent father in his old espionage days, so he’s retired in order to be closer to his daughter Kim (Maggie Grace, The Fog), who lives with her mother (Famke Janssen) and über-rich stepdad (Xander Berkeley, Fracture). Never mind that much of Bryan’s free time seems to be spent creepily caressing photos of his daughter.
It’s not until Kim heads off to Paris for the summer to follow U2 around on their European tour (against her father’s better judgment) that she gets kidnapped (maybe there are fates worse than following U2 around) and her doting dad must become the unstoppable force promised in the trailer. But Kim isn’t snatched by just any old surly Europeans. Nope, she’s yanked by Albanian sex slavers, meaning dear old daddy must head into the seedy, grimy underbelly of the Parisian sex market. All of this begets random acts of violence, torture, gunplay and car chases in the name of Bryan getting his daughter back safe and unharmed.
Though the movie may want to be more than the trashy junk it is, it can’t suppress its inherent, overwhelming goofiness. This is, after all, a Luc Besson production, and the man has made a nice little niche for himself in the world of Euro-centric action cinema with movies such as the Transporter films and Kiss of the Dragon (2001). But Taken isn’t as much fun as those movies, let alone as much fun as it should be in its own right.
When something as silly as this movie doesn’t revel in its own improbability and its collection of hard-to-swallow contrivances, plot holes and coincidences, it just becomes plain old dumb. This goes beyond the 25-year-old Maggie Grace awkwardly trying to play a bubbly 17-year-old, or no one being suspicious of the English-speaking French cop with the American accent. Where a gunfight with a yachtful of Arabs with aim akin to the baddies in Behind Enemy Lines (2001) might seem at home in Transporter 4, here it’s just foolish.
And speaking of foolish, I would be remiss not to mention Liam Neeson’s performance. Neeson appears to be contending for Harrison Ford’s spot as Hollywood’s top aging action star. OK, so I can buy the argument that the guy from Breakfast on Pluto (2005) could be a spy, with spies looking like everyday people (pay no attention to the fact that the Bourne movies already did this better—and classier). But this is no excuse for Neeson ambling through the entire film with the look of a man in dire need of some Metamucil. Actually, if everyone involved had had a few doses, maybe Taken would’ve been a lot less stodgy and a lot more entertaining. Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence, disturbing thematic material, sexual content, some drug references and language.