Saturday, January 31, 2009

Taken (***1/2)

Taken.  93 mins.  PG-13.  Directed by Pierre Morel.  Written by Luc Besson & Robert Mark Kamen.  Starring Liam Neeson, Maggie Grace, Xander Berkley, and Famke Janssen.

Taking a cue from the similarly-themed Man on Fire, and expanding on the premise, Taken is a lean, mean entertainment machine and revenge thriller.  The dumb and the fun come in equal doses here, and the whole thing is anchored by Liam Neeson's bad-ass lead performance as an ex-CIA operative pursuing (and executing) the European captors of his teenage daughter.  Neeson's character is like an older Jason Bourne without all the baggage of amnesia, and when he takes action, it's a joy to watch.  The preview (and poster) give you a good sense of what's to come by featuring the intense phone call between Neeson and his daughter as she's being kidnapped ("they're going to take you now").  The script was co-written by famed French action director Luc Besson (La Femme Nikita and The Fifth Element), and with the movie running a scant 93 minutes, there's not a lot of time spent on character and intricate plot details.  This is a tough, taut movie that needs to move fast otherwise the ridiculous nature of the whole thing would come crashing down around it.  Though I think the movie would have been more effective (and surprising) had Neeson not been warning his daughter to be careful in Paris and constantly worried that something would happen to her, that's a minor quibble.  I much prefer seeing Neeson play the ultimate bad-ass: knowing everything, telling every character (and the audience) exactly what's going to happen, never getting hurt, and always making bad guys pay in various inventive and excruciating ways.  He's Jack Bauer with a bigger budget.



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