Father Kills Best
Nothing--Not Even an Army of Dodgy Albanians--Will Stand Between Liam Neeson and His Daughter
Writer, director, and producer Luc Besson is a super-genius of the superficial action movie. He's become that by infusing stock genre fare with blatant contradictions. His Taxi series succeeds because he blends Buster Keatonesque anarchic slapstick with the car flick. But his greatest gift is injecting cloying melodrama into an action movie's very DNA. First he dared to improve on Lolita by adding guns (see: The Professional). Then he invigorated the nature-vs.-nurture premise of The Wild Child with mixed martial arts combat (see: Unleashed). And he cannily lets a man's inherent decency be the motivating force for vigilante vengeance (see: The Transporter series). But he works some of his best magic in Taken, the latest burst of unoriginal macho energy to come from his pen. He endearingly expresses a father's undying love for his daughter as a 96-hour homicidal rampage.
Bryan Mills (Liam Neeson) is a sad sack of a retired government op who moves to Los Angeles in an effort to patch up his estranged relationship with his daughter Kim (Maggie Grace). His wife Lenore (Famke Janssen) has long since divorced Mills, marrying generic L.A. moneybags Stuart (Xander Berkeley) who is not only there for her and Kim but can shower them with the material things Mills never could. And so the somewhat socially awkward Mills stumbles around L.A. looking for the ideal gift for Kim's 17th birthday and makes money working with his old team providing security for a spoiled young pop singer.
And then Kim flies to Paris for the summer with her friend Amanda (Katie Cassidy) without parental supervision, to follow U2 around the continent thanks to the tickets Stuart bought them. No sooner have the two young women arrived in the posh Paris flat where they're going to stay when two dodgy men break in and abduct them. This occurs while Kim is on the phone with her dad, forcing him to do what he knows how to do best.
All of the above takes about 25 minutes, and what follows is roughly 70 minutes of Mills turning Paris upside down as he works his way up the criminal food chain to find his daughter. You know how this is going to end before you even enter the theater--Taken is not about if he finds his daughter, but how--and director Pierre Morel (who also helmed the entertainingly daft, Besson-produced Banlieue 13) orchestrates it all with deadpan aplomb. Turns out Albanians have cornered the market on Paris' prostitutes, formerly importing them from Eastern Europe but now cutting down on transportation costs by abducting young female travelers. And once Mills' intel pal (Leland Orser) provides him with some basic background and his time window--word on the proverbial criminal-underground street has it that Mills has 96 hours to find his daughter before he more than likely never sees her again--Mills gets down to business.
Surprise: He's extremely good at this sort of thing. Mills shoots, beats, maims, stabs, cons, tortures, and otherwise kills a seemingly endless stream of swarthy Albanians and corrupt Parisian law enforcement officials en route to finding a posh high-end party where atrociously wealthy and unquestionably evil men bid outlandish sums of money on barely (or not even) legal girls to do whatever they want with them. Mills does all this with the same skeptically hang dog expression on his face that he has when shopping for home karaoke machines for his daughter. The result is sort of like watching Eeyore turn into Lee Marvin; in a word, awesome.
Just check your brain and political correctness at the door. Taken is robustly male fantasy entertainment, so women are helpless damsels in need of being saved or mere bargaining pawns; foreigners--of any and all stripes--are inevitably amoral and bad (as are the rich); and torture and shooting people in the back are perfectly normal responses to having your daughter kidnapped. As an unconscionably violent action flick, though, it's a blithely mindless good row.