Monday, February 9, 2009
MINI REVIEW: TAKEN (***)
"Don't make a mess!" That instantly hysterical line of dialogue spoken by a secondary character to Liam Neeson's Bryan Mills in Pierre Morel's shamelessly entertaining (and often sleazy) actioner Taken (***) sort of sums up the entire picture. A total retread of the Schwarzenegger 80's programmer Commando, Taken is a quick (89 minutes) and completely predictable time-waster that has done surprisingly brisk box office. Not that it's a terrible film -- it's well done for what it is and offers people fast, undemanding entertainment. The set-up is incredibly simple: Mills, an ex-CIA operative, has to rescue his 17 year old daughter Kim (an unconvincing Maggie Grace, who is 26 years old) from Paris-based sex-slave traffickers. Kim and her friend are kidnapped almost immediately upon landing in France, and Mills, a "preventer" who knows about 50 ways to kill a person, goes on a one-man vengeance spree, tracking down the Arab and Albanian baddies and sending them to their graves. The film, from the Luc Besson factory line of European-flavored action movies, is nowhere near as exciting as Morrel's previous outing, the boldly dynamic District B-13. Dialogue, by Besson and usual co-writer Robert Mark Kamen, is flat and drab, and the plotting is highly preposterous. But what keeps the film chugging along, aside from the visceral fight sequences and numerous shoot-outs (which Morel stages with solid craftsmanship), is Neeson's steely and manly performance as a father who will stop at nothing to get his daughter back. It's a hoot to see him, at 56 years of age, kicking ass and taking names. The action cinematography goes to great lengths to show that Neeson is doing all (or most of) his own stunts, and the film is refreshingly free of CGI trickery (though some process shots of characters driving in cars are pretty awful). There are shades of Man on Fire and many other revenge flicks all throughout Taken; it's as derivative as it can be. And as the body count rises, you get the sense that Mills could out do Jack Bauer in a game of "Let's see how many terrorists I can off in one day." Taken has been blessed with a dynamic trailer that has lured people into the theater for some easy, revenge-motivated entertainment. Molded by the Bourne series, the film doesn't have half the brains of that franchise, but if all you're looking for is a fun and forgettable action movie to fill up an evening, Taken will fit the bill.