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Movie Review: Taken

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Generally speaking, while Taken doesn’t astonish, it entertains. Surely, action hounds will exit the theater barking about the bullets and the hand-to-hand combat. Likewise, others will leave littered with thoughts of the kidnapping premise twisting into a much deeper, disturbing, and broader-based plot thread. Nonetheless, Taken feels condensed, improbable, and – in the end – false.

Ex-U.S. government “preventer” Bryan Mills (Liam Neeson) wants to rekindle a relationship with his estranged daughter Kim (Maggie Grace). To help achieve this, Bryan purchases Kim a karaoke machine for her seventeenth birthday. Meanwhile, Kim’s mother Lenore (Famke Janssen) and stepfather Stuart (Xander Berkeley) give her a horse as a gift and sign a waiver for her and her friend Amanda (Katie Cassidy) to travel to Paris without adult supervision.

After Bryan caves in and also signs the waiver, Kim flies to Paris with Amanda. Upon their arrival, the teenagers are kidnapped. After hearing the kidnapping via Kim’s cell phone, Bryan immediately heads to Paris to hunt down and kill those responsible. His source tells him that he only has 96 hours to get her back.

With car chases, gun battles, and Liam Neeson judo-chopping everyone and their brother in the jugular, Taken grasps its viewers’ throats and adheres their faces to the screen for a solid 93 minutes. Once the picture sets up its characters in the first 30 minutes and the “taking” finally takes place, Taken gets the adrenaline pumping and doesn’t let its foot off the gas until it reaches a canned and curt resolution that resorts to smiles and singing. Post-credits, it feels as if the script was reduced to key points and that more of the story is left to be told.

In telling the story screenwriters Luc Besson and Robert Mark Kamen take plentiful liberties with Neeson’s “preventer” character. For instance, consider the chances of Bryan locating the correct construction site on the outskirts of Paris. In addition, consider the likelihood of a pipe – bolted to the ceiling – becoming easily jarred at the most opportune time. The audience grasps the concept of Bryan possessing “a particular set of skills,” but can’t turn a blind eye as the plot keeps on trucking after being stretched with implausibility.

Script aside, no one disengages Taken’s effectiveness more than Maggie Grace, who plays the victim. After being kidnapped, her facial expressions and emotions do not appear as if her character endured any hardship. She doesn’t appear frazzled or traumatized; instead, she looks plain disingenuous. What’s more, Maggie runs with the awkwardness of Napoleon Dynamite, twice. Speaking of which, look out for an Uncle Rico cameo.

What’s more, why is a singer/dancer named Sheerah (Holly Valance) even a part of the screenplay? Solely included to provide a bridge between father and child, Sheerah only cramps the screenplay and takes away from the film’s high-octane vibe. So, kill the pretty pop-star, the karaoke machine, and the U2 tour inclusion, and replace all of the music references with more of Liam Neeson being a badass. Now that sounds like a recipe for success.

All in all, one thing’s for sure: if there is a film that will lead to slashing U.S. spending for study abroad, this is the one. While you won’t feel like you were taken to the cleaners with Taken, you will feel like you were simply taken to the movies. Cinematographer-turned-director Pierre Morel (also responsible for the high-on-action District B13) takes your typical gutsy, fast-paced action thriller and guides it down an atypical avenue.

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