Watching former Langley spook turned divorced security expert Bryan Mills (Liam Neeson) comfort a traumatized young pop star shortly after saving her from an anonymous, knife-wielding nutcase backstage at a gig, it’s clear that Taken has a very important, very socially conscious message – beautiful, ultra-rich, white girls need their daddies because beyond the limos and the penthouse suites, they are just such delicate flowers. It’s a message Mill’s want away daughter Kim (Maggie Grace) is indifferent to, but as she prepares to jaunt off to Europe to follow U2 on tour, it’s an attitude that before the end of the film will cost her dearly.
Grace can do the pampered, sassy teen bit in her sleep, but clearly misheard “pre-school” when her director asked for “high school” as she spends much of the movie bouncing around, giggling like an infant whose been at the Red Bull. She’s supposed to be Daddy’s little princess you see, and if that’s in any way unclear, director Pierre Morel opens the film with an exorbitantly lavish birthday bash courtesy of her rich step dad (Xander Berkley) at the climax of which she gets a horse. They even make a point of letting us know she’s still a virgin.
As any French cinema aficionado will tell you, it’s a staple of their action genre to stir in a little anti-imperialist, anti-immigration politics under the thin veil of loud-as-you-like action and flash-bang entertainment. Poor Kim hasn’t even made it out of the airport before she and a friend (not a virgin – the film will surely punish this) become the target of a ruthless Albanian mob whose specialty is the traffic and sale of young girls. Thanks to an overheard muffled few seconds of chatter on a cell phone, Bryan is able to ascertain who these guys are, where to look for them and that he has a mere 96 hours before Kim is a smack-head sex slave. Judging by the look on his face, these guys are in serious trouble.
It really is as preposterous as it sounds, but after three Transporter films and four incarnations of Taxi, scripters Luc Besson and Robert Mark Kamen know how to get us from A to B via enough shoot-outs, car chases and close-quarter fisticuffs that it’s a ride well worth taking. Yes it’s xenophobic (the darker your complexion, the more evil a bastard you are), and the unhealthy, pathological obsession Mills has with his daughter’s when and where at all times (long before she is abducted) is never viewed by them as a bit odd, just responsible parental concern.
Having cut his teeth as DP on the Transporter series, Morel is more than capable of orchestrating a set piece or ten, and at a brisk 90 minutes the pace is relentless. Despite looking more like a mortgage adviser than a highly trained covert operative, Liam Neeson (who is so far above this sort of thing it's laughable) displays an android like efficiency that makes Jason Bourne look like he’s not really trying.
At times it’s almost playful with Mills imparting to a helpless, squirming goon the merits or torturing someone in a country that has a stable power grid. Personal politics will likely dictate how much you cheer versus how much you chuckle – “Take the virgins to the Sheik!” is surely a punch line for the ages, eighty-five minutes in the set-up. It’s crap, but with added self-awareness, and thanks to Morel’s slick direction and Liam Neeson’s grim-faced determination not to let a quite appalling script get the better of him, it remains immensely watchable crap. For what it is, Taken is a true guilty pleasure that’s a clear cut above anything Hollywood as done in the action genre for quite some time.
Starring: Liam Neeson, Maggie Grace, Kamke Janssen, Xander Berkleley, Radivoje Bukvic, Oliver Rabourdin
Director: Pierre Morel
Runtime: 90 Minutes
Distributor: 20th Century Fox