Taken is a movie that is remarkably taking in big box office dollars. It earned more money during its third weekend (aided by an additional day, but still) than it did during its opening weekend. I was originally intrigued at the thought of seeing the film a few months back, based on a strong trailer more than anything else. I then read some not so glowing reviews but conversely saw it doing huge box office before finally deciding to take the plunge. A marginally regrettable move.
Taken stars Liam Neeson as Bryan Mills, an ex-CIA operative that gave up the good life catching baddies (his ex co-worker buddies all still hold basic gigs) for an opportunity to be closer to his estranged daughter. His daughter lives with her mother Lenore (Famke Janssen) and new husband in a lavish home where she receives a horse for her 17th birthday. Not one to be outdone, Bryan gets his daughter Kim (Maggie Grace, 25 playing 17) a karaoke machine because she used to want to be a singer. Who knows their daughter best? While Mom scoffs, Kim whispers in her fathers ear that she still wants to be a singer, “just don’t tell Mom.”
Kim has an opportunity to travel and leave the country with her friend Amanda, but needs both of her parents signatures to be able to go. Bryan struggles greatly with the decision but feels obligated to do so with her Mom already signing off, and with his desire to get closer to Kim and all. Once abroad, things immediately start to go south, as a mere hours after arrival, she is kidnapped and it’s anticipated that she will be sold to the highest bidder into sexual slavery. At least Kim would be around the type of money she is used to back home.
Now stepping back, Bryan has an opportunity to show his skills while saving a pop star from a post-concert attack. These “special skills” he has acquired through time, which make him a pain in the ass for people like the man who kidnapped Kim, or so he says in one of the most rousing speeches given by the actor during the film. It is Neeson who commands the screen and he better, as he is in virtually every frame in the film.
Unfortunately, once Bryan travels abroad to track down Kim and exact revenge on her kidnappers, the movie leaps through numerous preposterous plot holes to position Bryan in a position to kick some ass. While it is great fun to see Neeson do his thing, the action is pretty poor in comparison to the standards of say, a Matt Damon’s Jason Bourne. There are no grandiose set pieces or anything, which are supposed to add to the realism and plausibility of the whole affair, but Mills simply shows up at his next point or person of attack with no real rhyme or reason. There is no set-up like you find in the Bourne series, which involves you in the story. While you observe, you cannot interact.
Admittedly, I found myself cackling on a few occasions at the absurdity I was witnessing on screen. It was indeed amusing to see Neeson show up and wreck some shop. But action alone does not a movie make. There is little emotion behind the loosely structured film, and one has to blame writer Luc Besson (Fifth Element, The Professional) and the inexperience of Director Pierre Morel. The action is intensely choppy and it is only Neeson’s calm demeanor and assured presence that keeps the film going. The fact that the rest of the cast is essentially bland doesn’t help either.
A surprisingly simple ending and a few awkward bookend scenes fail to inspire much. While I can understand why it has scored with audiences, as it is serviceable mindless entertainment, more realism would be necessary in order to elevate this to recommended viewing. If you are looking for anything more you might want to puff, puff, pass on Taken.