Saturday 7 March 2009

Taken (2008)

Saturday 7 March 2009

Obviously indebted to the television series 24 (it features a kidnapped daughter called Kim, and co-stars 24 alumni Xander Berkeley), Taken is a fast-paced action-thriller from director Pierre Morel, starring Liam Neeson as retired CIA agent Bryan Mills. Jack Bauer comparisons abound in this grim yet efficient fantasy, that also stirs in the inevitable Jason Bourne riffs (Parisian setting, pulsing soundtrack, frantic fist-fights and gunplay.)

It's awesomely derivative and fails to carve its own identity, but undoubtedly knows its target audience and delivers 93 minutes of lean, mean, bruising action. Bryan Mills is the aforementioned retired spook, living in California to be closer to his 17-year-old daughter Kim (Lost's Maggie Grace), who lives with his ex-wife Lenore (Famke Janssen) and millionaire stepfather Stuart (Berkeley). Bryan and Kim have a largely solid relationship, although Bryan's secrets and overprotective angst is less endearing than Stuart's palatial house and expensive birthday presents.

Her father's controlling ways proves to be stumbling block when Kim announces she intends to visit Paris with best-friend Amanda (Katie Cassidy), but reneges to mention her vacation is just one leg of a road trip following U2's European tour. Bryan is predictably anxious about allowing his teenage daughter to travel without an adult escort, his pessimistic mind awash with horror stories gathered from his time in the CIA, but eventually gives in and signs the necessary papers so she can leave the country…

Only, wouldn't you know it, in bleakly comical fashion, Kim and Amanda are both kidnapped from their Parisian apartment by Albanian sex traffickers, prompting Bryan to fly to Europe as a one-man rescue mission – knowing he only has 96 hours to find Kim before she's lost to the criminal underworld forever (all while swallowing a desire to scream "I told you so!" throughout.) What follows is a solid if unremarkable series of enjoyable clich├ęs, held together by the granite-nosed specter of Neeson – giving hushed, barbed threats down telephones, slamming heads with car doors, electrocuting men with metal rods stuck in their thighs, and generally causing citywide chaos in a bullheaded determination to find his offspring and wreak vengeance on her kidnappers.

Curiously xenophobic given its European pedigree (Luc Besson co-writes and produces), Taken is nevertheless a brainless thrillride that doesn’t outstay its welcome and provides the necessary crash, bang, wallop. The storyline is ruthlessly simple to follow, Neeson throttles the screen as the avenging angel at the epicenter of the chaos, and there are a few juicy elements that prick your attention towards the end (like an unsettling "human auction" sequence, with businessmen sat behind screens bidding on scantily-clad women), but it's never anything more than a competent, morally-questionable aspirant to its superior forebearers.

Overall, Taken is one of those movies that's very easy to enjoy watching, buoyed by a genuine desire to see Liam Neeson succeed in his solo crusade, but even easier to rip to pieces when you critique its storyline, dumb dialogue, and infuriatingly drippy denouement. So, grand hokum that's ideal for a Friday night of beer and pizza, but too shallow to be recalled with any great affection once the last slice has been digested.

20th Century Fox / EuropaCorp
Budget: €19 million
93 minutes

Director: Pierre Morel
Writers: Luc Besson & Robert Mark Kamen

Cast: Liam Neeson (Bryan Mills), Famke Janssen (Lenore), Maggie Grace (Kim Mills), Xander Berkeley (Stuart), Hannah Mada (Lueart), Katie Cassidy (Amanda), Olivier Rabourdin (Jean-Claude), Holly Valance (Sheerah), Jon Gries (Casey), David Washofsky (Bernie), Nathan Rippy (Victor), Camille Japy (Isabelle), Nicolas Giraud (Peter) & Gerard Watkins (Saint Clair)