February 5, 2009

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Taken (PG-13)
Liam Neeson plays a one-time C.I.A. agent who makes up for years of parental neglect by totally kicking ass to attempt to save his daughter in Taken, a fun little fast-food action suspense movie.

Bryan Mills (Neeson) used to be some kind of government spy-guy, all black ops and eagle-eye attention to detail. But he’s retired to move closer to his 17-year-old daughter, Kim (Maggie Grace), who lives with her mom, Lenore (Famke Janssen), and her second husband, who is some kind of bazillionaire. Naturally, at Kim’s crazy lavish birthday party, Bryan feels uncomfortable when he shows up with a karaoke machine and his daughter’s stepdad gives her a horse. And, when she later meets him to ask if she can go to Paris with her friend Amanda (Katie Cassidy), Bryan feels Lenore is being too permissive with his still-young daughter. But he gives in, making her promise to call him every day and giving her maps of areas in Paris not to visit. Perhaps one of those areas should have been the airport, for that’s where the stupid young Amanda and Kim meet a boy who is overly friendly and a little too curious about personal information and who drops his French accent to make a suspicious phone call once they get in their apartment.

If you’ve seen the ads for this movie, then you know what happens next. While she’s on the phone with Bryan, Kim and Amanda are grabbed by strange men, and Bryan, who has been recording and taking notes throughout her description of the kidnappers, tells the one who picks up her dropped phone that, well, trouble’s a comin’.

Kim’s kidnapping puts Bryan in outside-the-law, kick-down-the-door, shoot-people-to-get-information Jack-Bauer-on-24 mode. And sure, moral qualms about torture yada yada, but it makes for some viscerally fun action, particularly since, unlike 24, Taken is a brisk 90 minutes and doesn’t need to pad out a season’s worth of episodes with absurd subplots. Neeson probably isn’t making room on his mantel for an Oscar for this movie, but he is exactly as bad-ass as he needs to be. Maggie Grace is at 25 a rather unconvincing naïve 17-year-old, especially since she’s best known for playing a bitchy characters on Lost. But this movie requires nothing more of her than to scream a lot and look scared, and she does that just fine.

If you can live with the idea that not every action thriller has to be a campy and glitzy James Bond or a serious and grim Jason Bourne, you’ll mostly enjoy Taken for the ready-to-snack-on fun it is. C+

Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence, disturbing thematic material, sexual content, some drug references and language. Directed by Pierre Morel and written by Luc Besson and Robert Mark Kamen, Taken is an hour and 31 minutes long and distributed in wide release by 20th Century Fox.