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TAKEN (director: Pierre Morel; screenwriters: Luc Besson/Robert Mark Kamen; cinematographer: Michel Abramowicz; editor: Frederic Thoraval; music: Nathaniel Mechaly; cast: Liam Neeson (Bryan Mills), Maggie Grace (Kim), Leland Orser (Sam), Jon Gries (Casey), David Warshofsky (Bernie), Katie Cassidy (Amanda), Holly Valance (Sheerah), Xander Berkeley (Stuart), Famke Janssen (Lenore), Nicolas Giraud (Peter), Olivier Rabourdin (Jean-Claude), Gérard Watkins (St-Clair), Helena Soubeyrand (Girl with the Jacket); Runtime: 94; MPAA Rating: PG-13; producer: Luc Besson; 20th Century Fox; 2008-France-in English)
“Trashy paranoid thriller.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Trashy paranoid thriller directed by Frenchman Pierre Morel (“The Transporter”/”District B13”). The preposterous script is by Frenchman Luc Besson (who specializes in Eurotrash) and the American Robert Mark Kamen. The 56-year-old talented Irish thesp Liam Neeson steps down from his more arty pics and takes a turn as a James Bond type of action hero and single-handedly brings down a dangerous foreign crime ring on their turf, if you can believe. If escapist fantasy films that are fast-paced, filled with well-staged testosterone-driven action and you don’t mind that it’s not-to-be-taken seriously for even a sec, then this entertaining but mindless roller coaster ride of a taut film is probably just right for you. I found it too absurd to be ‘taken’ in by it, even its best asset—its skill in filmmaking techniques left me thinking more bad trip than going with its adrenaline high.

Bryan Mills (Liam Neeson) is a retired CIA agent, who is divorced from his wife Lenore (Famke Janssen). She’s remarried to the tycoon Stuart (Xander Berkeley) and lives a life of pleasure in Los Angeles, while Bryan barely gets by on his pension. Doting estranged father Bryan just lives for his now 17-year-old daughter Kim (Maggie Grace), an aspiring pop singer, as he retired early because he missed following his daughter grow up and now wishes to make up for years of parental neglect due to career obligations. Against her overbearing dad’s advice, the underaged Kim without an adult chaperone goes for a summer holiday with her teenager girlfriend Amanda (Katie Cassidy) to Paris (which is viewed as a terrifying place by the spy and that teens on holiday can’t be trusted to behave without supervision) when she agrees to his strict set of rules. As soon as Kim arrives in Paris for her summer vacation, a spotter (Nicolas Giraud) for an Albanian white slaver ring orchestrates the kidnapping of the two girls from their luxurious residence. The spy hears all this on the special cell phone he laid on his daughter and rushes to Paris, as his CIA pals in L.A. tell him he has at best 96 hours to save her from being swept away to a life of prostitution.

Since Bryan seems to be the only one in the world capable of retrieving his daughter, he goes it solo. Just before he goes on his mission, he lets the kidnappers know that he has “a very particular set of skills acquired over a very long career in the shadows, skills that make me a nightmare for people like you. . . . I will look for you, I will find you. And I will kill you.” If you don’t find this silly and that the filmmakers are just cynically manipulating US foreign prejudices for this blockbuster entertainment spectacle to cash in, then you might as well sit back, relax and watch Neeson kick-ass with his repertoire of judo skills that he expertly does without making a fool of himself (also once in a while he uses a gun or knife to get his point across that he means lethal business, as the body count grows).

This film evokes no Gene Kelly dancing down the Champs Elysees goofy moments of fun as in his 1951 film “An American in Paris,” but instead it holds the modern American view of the City of Lights that the Bushies believe in —that the world is a ruthless, threatening, cold and ugly place filled with terrorists, gangsters, scumbags and pinkos.

When Bryan eventually confronts the English-speaking baddie (Gérard Watkins) who runs an auction on the kidnapped girls, he utters as his excuse for kidnapping his daughter that “it’s not personal, only business.” That’s about as deep as this crass film ever gets in trying to explain a world that seems significantly more depraved and jaded from past generations. The superhero spy shows off his techie and kick-ass judo skills and his willingness to use torture because the crime is personal and these villains are not worth considering as human beings, and he views himself as a “preventer” of world terrors who is fighting on the side of the good guys against the evildoers. The obsessive Bryan in one of his many moments of rage tells the corrupt, apathetic, wormy French government agent (Olivier Rabourdin) he asks for help that in order to get his daughter back “He will tear down the Eiffel Tower if I have to!” And by golly, Bryan does nearly that as he miraculously retrieves his still virgin daughter from the filthy hands of Albanians, Arabs and feckless European businessmen. A “Mission Accomplished” take on those Americans who view the world through dark glasses and find Paris too loose a place for naive tourists to visit. And to think this xenophobic pro-American mean look at France is ironically made by a French director, writer and producer (What people won’t do for money!).


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”