Taken is a pretty cheap thrill ride, made sufferable by a lightning fast pace and the sheer weight of Liam Neeson's smart, seething, superhuman main character Bryan Mills--pretty much alone. It's every parent's worst nightmare of European tourism gone wrong. But ah, Neeson's Bryan isn't just any parent. He's a retired spook who's up on all the latest tech, combat-ready and pissed. He's the Jason Bourne of divorced dads of innocent kidnapped teenagers.
Retired from the CIA to be closer to his seventeen-year-old daughter Kim (Maggie Grace, "Lost") during her last years in the nest, Mills is driven to distraction by a hostile ex-wife (Famke Janssen) and her new life, which largely excludes even his modest attempts to stay involved and relevant in his daughter's, sort of like Dustin Hoffman's character in Last Chance Harvey, as a commando.
He's also "wise" to the ways of the world, and quite skeptical when Kim wants to head to Paris with her friend Amanda to see art. His skepticism is more than validated when, after she has obtained his permission to travel out of the country, the trip turns out to have fewer chaperones, more stops and a less staid, academic purpose than just staking out the Louvre.
Of course, by then he can't really do anything about it without looking like the bad guy, so Kim and Amanda fly to Charles de Gaulle and promptly find themselves way in over their heads when Albanian lowlifes decide to help themselves to a couple of young, stupid American girls for their own nefarious purposes.
And by prompt, I mean prompt. Everything in this movie is prompt. It can't be criticized for a lack of economy. Almost no plot point is presented unless it can be quick, full of action and paranoia and set the scene just enough to get us to the next.
Sounds good so far, and it is good. The film is very satisfying in very visceral terms--violence and revenge. To complain a bit, Neeson's character is way too competent and lucky. But Neeson plays it so straight, as such an unstoppable force, that it's not a fatal complaint. The bad guys are not so unbelievable, but the ending gets a bit baroque and overdone, at least a touch more so than was strictly economical. Again, it doesn't hurt too much.
There are no glaringly bad performances, but only Grace, Janssen and Olivier Rabourdin as an old French spy acquaintance (newly respectable in a high-level government job, as he keeps reminding Bryan) with a very rude dinner guest really stand out. Grace and Janssen are good, Rabourdin charming and convincingly amoral. Wacky Uncle Rico from Napoleon Dynamite (Jon Gries) is a throwaway CIA buddy without much to do.
Taken is just the ticket for a weekend matinee or late-night show. Unlike the buttery popcorn which may accompany it, it won't require napkins, but it's essentially the same deal, a pretty good snack. Not advised for parents with teenagers abroad.
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