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Theatrical Review: Of all the men you would expect to tear through Europe to save his daughter, leaving a trail of dead like Jonestown in his wake, Liam Neeson would be relatively low on the list, coming in somewhere between Chevy Chase and Zero Mostel.
Neeson has always been known for playing men of impassioned rhetoric, guys whose tongues are more powerful than their physical prowess. So, watching the man who played Alfred Kinsey, Jean Valjean, and Michael Collins take two large nails and slam them into a another man's thighs before connecting jumper cables to said nails might leave a viewer understandably flabbergasted.
This is just one of the actions taken by Bryan Mills (Neeson) when he receives a call from his daughter (Maggie Grace) as she is being kidnapped by Albanian sex-traffickers while on vacation in France. An ex-CIA man, Mills uses a few decades worth of weapons knowledge, intelligence training, and fighting styles to basically purge France of any and all Albanian abducters to find his sugarplum and return her to the loving arms of his ex-wife (Famke Janssen) and her absurdly rich second husband (Xander Berkeley).
There is a small preamble to the action involving Mills 'distrust of his only daughter being able to handle going abroad and some risible nonsense about Mills saving a pop star's life, both of which approach insufferable. The same could be said of the film's concluding scenes, which follow a climactic battle on a Parisian yacht. But director Pierre Morel, who directed the likewise action-toned District B13, hits the accelerator early and doesn't give it much of a rest through the films 94-minute runtime.
Morel's smartest decision would be placing most of the action, and the success of the film, on the shoulders of Neeson, who makes a startlingly convincing action hero, bringing a domineering stoicism and a rattling charm to Mills. While the film purposefully never gives us a real arch-nemesis besides, possibly, the entire nation of Albania, the director stays firmly focused on Mills as the hero. He gives Neeson some genuine moments to play-up a scene or two, especially in the film's most tense sequence when Mills tortures the wife of an old friend whom he outs as a traitor supplying information to the Albanians.
Written by French action auteur Luc Besson and Robert Mark Kamen, the ingénue behind the Transporter franchise, Taken is steadier and more streamlined than Kamen's box office juggernaut but it misses its mark in the realm of physicality. No matter how much fun it is to watch Neeson dispose of four dozen or so European scumsicles, it never quite hits the visceral and marketable fighting aerobatics that come naturally to an action star like Jason Statham. The action is engaging but rarely exciting; the drama heftier but still far from convincing. I blame Albania.
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