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Movie Review: Taken

I think it’s time to give proper respect to those unsung heroes of the action film. There is an elite team of young men and women who willingly enter a career in which their lives are often in jeopardy for merely going about their daily routine. I am speaking, of course, about those brave employees of the food service industry – those young waiters, servers, and room service attendants who put their lives on the line in this particular genre of film, and are usually at the wrong place and exactly the wrong time.

How many times has a film’s hero needed access to his nemeses’ inner circle, only to have a poor sap with a food platter emerge from the shadows, get quickly disposed of, and allow our protagonist a clear, concise path to his desired target? Yet another waiter from the Deus ex Machina Restaurant makes such an entry in the new Liam Neeson vehicle Taken, giving Qui Gon a chance for some face time with the chief villain.

There’s not much new or groundbreaking in any frame of Taken — a nasty little foray into international sadism — but for those who enjoy uncomplicated thrills without cumbersome impediments, they will be quite taken with…um, Taken.

As the title suggests, the film is all about economy and immediacy. We really know little of Neeson’s character, Bryan Mills (truth be told, I needed to consult the press kit to get his name, as in my mind he was just known as “Mr. Face Smash”) except that he calls himself a “preventer of bad things.”

We also know that he loves his teenage daughter Kim (played by a considerably older looking Maggie Grace), for whom he quits his whatever-his-job-was to be closer to. Kim lives with her mom (played by a barely there Famke Janssen) and her new incredibly rich husband.

Since the film doesn’t want to waste too much time with secondary characters, it’s firmly established that the guy is a total ass, if only for giving his stepdaughter a pony for her birthday. When Kim asks to gallivant through Paris, Bryan reluctantly agrees, only to have his worse fears realized, as she and her girlfriend are almost immediately kidnapped and entered into an Armenian sex-slave operation.

It’s the Roman Polanski-Harrison Ford thriller Frantic, infused with Jack Bauer “interrogation” acumen. It’s a lean, mean little explosion of parental fury, which is made better solely for the presence of Neeson in the lead. Like the atypical choice of selling “Matt Damon: Action Hero,” the choice to cast an accomplished actor in a physically demanding role was a shrewd move. Neeson is no stranger to action, though more through the phantasmagorical worlds of Star Wars and Batman Begins than one grounded in the scurvy modern streets of France.

Director Pierre Morel is one to shave off any excess story in order to expose his films’ muscles and sinew. The Luc Besson protégé (Besson actually co-wrote the script to Taken) directed the similarly frenetic, free-running bonanza District B13, which helped usher in the skill of “Parkour” to American audiences (used again in the beginning of Casino Royale).

He’s got no new such feats of agility in Taken, but he does possess proficiency when it comes to hand-to-hand combat. The director falters when the pursuit gets automotive. Too many blink-fast edits threaten to steer the proceedings into all-to another blur of screeching, revving metal. But when things get personal — and they do quite often in ways that suggest someone was asleep at the MPAA ratings board when this was screened for it to pass with a PG-13 — they contain a perverse thrill of parental pummeling on behalf of a victimized loved one.

It’s effective, efficient and mostly forgettable, but with Neeson’s seething rage at the center, it makes for more than just another round of superficial cinematic sadism.

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