Cinemark 16, Hollywood Interquest, Tinseltown
In Taken, Liam Neeson kicks a lot of ass. How much? Well, imagine the exact amount of ass-kicking you think is enough, plus even more. Now double it.
And he takes names, sometimes, but only to find out which asses he'll kick next. Many of them don't even have names. They have corpses. That's right: In addition to, and often as a result of, kicking ass, Neeson or, well, his character, ex-spy Bryan Mills also does a whole lot o' killin'.
The reason for his wrath is that his teen daughter Kim, while vacationing in Paris with a girlfriend, has been kidnapped by sex traffickers. It's Bryan's worst nightmare. Or maybe his secret hope? Actually, the reason is that he's highly trained, by Uncle Sam no less, in the arts of kicking ass and killin'. He even explains this to the kidnapper on the phone, at considerable length, in a riveting, parody-ripe little monologue evidently much cherished by screenwriters Luc Besson and Robert Mark Kamen, director Pierre Morel and not least Neeson himself, who really nails it:
"I don't know who you are. I don't know what you want. If you are looking for ransom, I can tell you I don't have money. But what I do have are a very particular set of skills: skills I have acquired over a very long career, skills that make me a nightmare for people like you. If you let my daughter go now, that'll be the end of it. I will not look for you. I will not pursue you. But if you don't, I will look for you, I will find you, and I will kill you."
Do you suppose the kidnapper lets her go? "Good luck," is the reply, but of course luck is not something Bryan Mills needs. In the villain's defense, Bryan's daughter is played by the highly adorable (if emotively manic) Maggie Grace, on whom the movie rightly depends to make the stakes clear. Maybe "rightly" isn't the right word; the fact is that everybody wants to possess her.
Not to put too fine a point on it, but Taken has an unpleasant way of reducing its young actress to naught but a piece of ass, and then inviting audience indignation toward those evil thugs who would reduce her to a piece of ass. Of course the thugs get reduced, too, by getting their own asses kicked and killed. It's a good thing Neeson is here to class this stuff up.
Except maybe it's not a good thing at all. By pairing an unnervingly young and sexually vulnerable damsel in distress with a big-hearted but astonishingly lethal father-figure protector, Taken taps into a familiar muscle-movie dynamic. Think Alyssa Milano and Arnold Schwarzenegger in Commando, or Natalie Portman and Jean Reno in Besson's own The Professional.
The characterization here is similarly cartoonish enough so, actually, that Taken's setup seems a little tedious. Bryan's an enthusiastic father, we learn, but historically not an available one. He has, of course, lost his wife, played by Famke Janssen, to another guy some super-dad jackass who actually gets Bryan's daughter a horse for her birthday when he only gets her a karaoke machine.
Oh, and an ass-kicking killing spree. That counts for something, right?