They say, "don't judge a book by its cover," but Taken is exactly what it looks like on the outside. If the trailer, which features star Liam Neeson intoning a death sentence on a faceless kidnapper, doesn't make you want to run out and see the film, then you are not the intended audience. This is a movie with nothing on its mind except pure, streamlined vengeance, and what you see is exactly what you get.
Ex-spook Bryan Mills (Neeson) is living the quiet life, trying to spend more time with his daughter Kim (25-year-old Maggie Grace, bafflingly playing 17), who lives with his ex-wife Lenore (an underutilized Famke Janssen). One day, Kim approaches him with plans to go to Paris for the summer. Bryan is reluctant, but is talked into it against the nagging suspicion that something will go wrong. Indeed it does -- mere minutes after arriving at the place where she and her friend are staying, kidnappers burst in and snatch Kim up while she's on the phone with Bryan, inspiring him to deliver the aforementioned threat and spend the next 96 hours tearing Paris apart.
Those who saw director Pierre Morel's highly entertaining French-language parkour actioner District B13 will find the same sense of adrenaline on display here, as Bryan takes down thug after thug in his relentless search. Taken literally doesn't stop: there are no real breathers, no fleshed-out side characters, no pit stops, no detours. Taken does start out a little slow, giving us time to know Bryan through his interactions playing security guard for a pop star and some bonding scenes with Kim, but once the action starts it doesn't let up.
Similarly, this is basically a one-man show, and that man is Liam Neeson. An inspired choice, Neeson brings real gravitas and richness to a character that really doesn't have any. It wouldn't be nearly as entertaining to see Jason Statham or Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson kicking ass and taking names, because it's a blast to watch Neeson play against type. While nothing that transpires in Taken deserves to be termed "realistic", Neeson's performance makes Bryan's skills believable within the context of the film. The only real flaw here is at once negligible yet disturbing: Bryan and the film have little intent on saving anyone else caught up in the villains' ring of corruption, and some scenes (especially the last one) play a bit false.
Despite Fox's insistence to cut Taken to get a PG-13 in the United States (which, however disappointing, seems to have paid off in spades at the box office), it remains an unrelenting thriller which delivers the goods thanks to sharp direction and a magnetic lead. Those looking for a purely entertaining blast of action-movie goodness shouldn't miss it.
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