Sunday, February 1, 2009
I almost feel sorry for kidnappers. Sure, they steal children and force them into sex slavery, but they always seem to have the rotten luck of picking the child of a CIA agent, or a businessman who knows such people. I especially feel sorry for the people who kidnapped the child of Bryan Mills (Liam Neeson), the hero of the Luc Besson-penned “Bourne” wannabe “Taken.”
Mills is, of course, a retired CIA agent. On the weekends he barbeques with other retired colleagues as they recount deadly, off-the-record missions all over the world. Ah, the good ole days. His daughter Kim (Maggie Grace) lives with his ex-wife Lenore (Famke Janssen) and Lenore’s new husband Stuart (Xander Berkeley), a man so rich he actually buys his stepdaughter a pony for her birthday.
A friend drags Mills with him to a security detail for a pop star (Holly Valance), whom he saves from a knife-wielding maniac. In gratitude, the star offers to introduce Kim, a wannabe singer, to major contacts. I wonder how many stars get their start this way. The scene serves to show that Mills still has his chops, even if it is farfetched.
After her birthday, Kim decides to go to Europe with her friend Amanda in order to follow U2 on their European tour. Yeah, that’s topical; was Bowie taking the year off? Mills is adamantly opposed to the trip but finally relents so he can be super-dad. Kim assures him that nothing will go wrong then heads off to Paris. And what does she do? Share a cab with a sexy French guy, of course. Well, at least they don’t say which apartment they’re staying in. Oh wait.
The plot from here you can easily guess from the trailer: Kim calls her dad to check in, only to be abducted. Mills then speaks to the assailant, promising a painful death should he not release Kim and her friend immediately. The kidnapper says “Good luck,” and hangs up. They must not get these kinds of movies in Paris.
Here’s where the film lost me: armed only with a voice recording, Mills and his buddies learn everything there is to know about the assailant, and the slave ring for which he works. Never mind the WMD debacle, how did these guys not nab Osama Bin Laden by September 12th? For arbitrary reasons, Mills has 96 hours to find his daughter, and he sets off to Paris.
I’ll be honest, I don’t remember anything about the various stunts: the car crashes, the shootouts, the torture scenes. What I do remember is Liam Neeson, marching through wave after wave of poor fools, killing everything he doesn’t knock unconscious. He stalks through the streets of Paris like Yul Brynner in “Westworld,” an unstoppable force who moves with calm deliberation through each scene, pausing only to brush aside the peons in his path.
I do take issue with one scene though; at a certain point, Mills discovers a brothel the slavers sell their wares to, and just about every bed seems to be filled with a prostitute dead from overdose. Why is that even there, other than for cheap shock value? Would they really leave dead people to rot, or worse, do they stay there for a much more disturbing reason?
The film ends of course with hugs and happiness. The characters don’t learn anything about themselves, and live their lives as if nothing happened. Just once I’d like to see someone schedule an appointment with a therapist. But I’m over-thinking. When you get down to it, “Taken” is dumber than a sack of rocks and moves at such a brisk pace that it ends before we’ve ever really gone anywhere, but it’s got Liam Neeson and that counts for a lot. The man can’t help but fascinate. He has such a gravitas that you almost believe that he could figure the whole thing out in three minutes, and that no weapon made of man could stop him. But let’s face it: there are fare worse ways to spend $10.