The critical part of my brain despises the movie “Taken.” It has developed an annoying habit of whining about tired narrative clichés and predictable dialogue right after the credits start rolling. Despite the nagging voice in my head, there were many moments in Pierre Morel’s new film – about ex-government agent Bryan Mills (Liam Neeson) who is sent into brutal vengeance mode after his daughter Kim (Maggie Grace) is kidnapped by Albanian flesh peddlers in Paris – that transcend the film’s overall mediocrity and make the cost of admission somewhat worthwhile. But these moments are just too sparse to make this film more than a good way to kill an afternoon.
Somewhere, deep within the reptilian level of the human psyche, rests the innate urge to see Neeson kick ass. Thankfully, seeing this gifted actor attempt to shed his credibility for the sake of some broken bones is one of the film’s treasures. Neeson’s character, Agent Mills, is more MacGyver than Segal, but the film compensates with some brief moments of ingenuity in the methods he employs to reach and torture his little girl’s kidnappers. The only fault with the performance comes from the viewer; it’s incredibly difficult for the audience – even those that have seen Rob Roy – to distance the character from the actor, lending a sense of impropriety to the events that may or may not have occurred if it was Clive Owen.
The movie’s specialty is hand-to-hand combat, the camera going in quick and shaky to capture the rough-and-tumble choreography, and the sickening sounds of bones cracking and limbs snapping are grimly pleasing to the ear. Morel knows this, which explains how the film gravitates toward these aspects at the slightest provocation. It’s when the film attempts alternative action conventions, like the car chase or explosion, that we see just how well other films have done these things. Granted, the hand-to-hand combat is the same way, not as good as “Bourne,” but better than the somewhat ham-handed “Dark Knight.” Yet, the fisticuff scenes fit well into the overall hectic arch of the film’s combat, rather than just existing for the sake of pleasing some special effects and stunt work requirement.
While it’s appropriately gratifying to see Neeson drop the accent and the restraint, you’ll really wish it didn’t take so long to get to it. “Taken” is incredibly front-loaded, spending its first third expositing of how much the overprotective Mills loves his daughter, how his daughter is embarrassed of him, how his ex-wife Lenore (Famke Jansson) finds him impossible, how her new husband is rich as hell—it all stands irrelevant at the film’s end when it fizzles out to a couple of phoned-in “epilogue” scenes that feel contrived after so much concern for this father-daughter relationship.
The way Jansson exploits the sighing ex-wife image she plays so well, you’d expect a resolution as to whether they are going to get back together at the very least, but it’s as if the film got its bright-and-shiny sequences done and forgot to resolve itself.
Aside from Jansson’s predictably emotional mother, the rest of the film’s supporting cast is tolerable, not giving any more than necessary to continue the plot. Although Maggie Grace’s performance seems the most natural, she shows just how difficult it is to be either scared or stoned. The bland score and standard lighting/costume/set design glaze the movie with a sense of apathetic adequacy.
There are bits and pieces of “Taken” that heighten the adrenaline enough to have fun, but the film is better suited for a trailer or highlight reel than its 93-minute runtime. If you have absolutely nothing else to watch, this movie will be an amusing two hours, but if given the choice, rent “Die Hard 2” again.