2 out of 2 stars
In his first English language film, former director of photography-turned-director Pierre Morel backslides heavily from his near perfect debut "District 13." Even though both movies are high speed action/thrillers set mostly in Paris and cut from the Jason Bourne cloth, "Taken" suffers from a recycled, unimaginative script, negative ethnic stereotyping and a level of pointless brutality and exploitation which far exceeds its "PG-13" rating.
In a role that would have gone to Bruce Willis a decade ago, Liam Neeson stars as Bryan Mills, a recently retired spy who quit in order to make up for lost time with his 17-year-old daughter Kim (Maggie Grace). Bryan's ex-wife Lenore (Famke Janssen) has remarried a filthy rich international mogul, and in perhaps an effort to compensate for Bryan's long absences, both have turned Kim into a spoiled, but still friendly, little rich girl.
Though Bryan is largely out of the picture, Kim still needs his written permission in order to leave the country. Kim tells Bryan that she and a friend are going to be museum-hopping in Paris, but secretly plans on following U2 on their European tour. The shrill and short-sighted Lenore plays on Bryan's guilt and eventually gets him to consent, but he, brimming with justifiable paranoia, is not convinced all will be hunky-dory.
Bryan's gut instincts are on the mark when Kim and the friend are kidnapped by well-organized thugs. Counting on his vast covert experience and some inside dope from a former colleague, Bryan flies to Paris in a flash to save his daughter.
Co-written by Morel's producer/mentor Luc Besson, the screenplay is bereft of any of his trademark wit, although there is plenty of unintended humor throughout. Bryan's hyper-stylized amalgamation of Bourne, Bond and Bruce Lee rips through Paris like a wrecking ball while taking out large groups of over-written Armenian gangsters who are preparing Kim for a new career in white slavery.
One of the industry's finest actors, Neeson could recite a recipe for lemonade and make it sound compelling. Despite the been-there-seen-that story and the rote action/adventure choreography, his hulking presence and tortured parent intensity make the extended middle stretch instantly watchable, if not at all believable.
Recalling bits and pieces of "Death Wish," "Ransom" and dozens of others, "Taken" most resembles Tony Scott's equally overly-fussy "Man on Fire." In it Denzel Washington goes through pretty much the same motions to find an abducted child he let slips away while under his watch. Both films could have benefited greatly from frequent injections of down time and thoughtful reflection and less bull-in-a-china-shop whirlwind.
"Taken" has been on the shelf for close to a year and has had two opening date changes, the latest being from fall of last year to today. Any time any major studio film is moved from the coveted fall time slot to the undesirable mid-winter, you can count on something that is sub-par and a movie you can certainly pass on until it arrives on DVD. In the case of "Taken," that will likely be sometime before the end of the spring. (Fox)