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MOVIE REVIEW: Compelling storyline fails to rescue 'Taken'

Lane Blevins • Feb 6, 2009 at 12:00 AM

While not a bad entry into the elusive “kidnapping film” sub-genre, the new Liam Neeson flick “Taken” seems to struggle with outside forces.

At times, it feels under-budgeted. At others, it feels like an R-rated movie forced into a PG-13 rating. This means that for every intriguing scene there’s another that has you scratching your head trying to guess what crucial element is missing.

At the heart of “Taken” is a compelling story. Neeson plays Bryan Mills, a retired Special Forces agent (or some other covert government operative) who has given up the career that estranged him from his wife and daughter. He has become a devoted father trying to make up for lost time, but sees that he is losing his grasp on his daughter’s life — thanks in no small part to his ex-wife and her obscenely rich new husband.

Bryan is very protective of his daughter. While his ex-wife claims his job made him paranoid, Bryan maintains it made him “aware.” So when his 17-year-old daughter Kim, played by Maggie Grace (who fellow “Lost” fanatics will recognize as Shannon), approaches him for permission to travel to Paris alone with a friend, he reluctantly agrees.

Of course, within hours of touching down in Paris, the girls are snatched up. Fortunately, Kim was on the phone with her father when the intruders barged in, and is able to shout out enough information about her attackers to get Bryan started tracking them down.

The film then follows a rabid Neeson as he romps through Paris in search of his daughter with a ferocity that is matched only by Chuck Norris. CLICK THE BOX BELOW for a trailer.

The great thing about this movie is its sense of perspective. In most kidnapping films, it is common for the viewer to “peek behind the curtain.” The filmmakers give their audience a third-person omniscient perspective that shows where the hostage is, what they are experiencing and who has captured them.

“Taken” is different. In this film, you find out the story as Bryan uncovers it, piece by piece. Our hero finds one person who leads him to the next and so on.

Enhancing this style of storytelling is the intricately structured group that has taken Bryan’s daughter. The first person Mills finds is only the tip of the iceberg. What he discovers is a lucrative and even more organized business of woman-trafficking. To keep from spoiling the details, I can only say that this aspect of the film was fascinating.

What isn’t so great is the overall feeling that the film needed more attention and an R-rating. The PG-13 stamp felt forced under all of the obvious effort it took to avoid an R. Also, the movie suffered from a series of radical coincidences that came off as downright campy at times. The combination of both gave “Taken” that all-too-familiar slick feeling that has saturated most of Hollywood’s output over the last decade or so.

While Parisian filmmaker Luc Besson (director of “The Professional” and “The Fifth Element”) penned this above-average script, and Neeson and Grace turned in suitable performances, I wasn’t blown away with “Taken.” But if you are into tales about kidnapping and raw vengeance, then give this one a look-see.

2½ stars (out of 4)

STARRING: Liam Neeson, Maggie Grace

DIRECTED BY: Pierre Morel

RATED: PG-13 for intense sequences of violence, disturbing thematic material, sexual content, some drug references and language

RUNNING TIME: 1 hour, 33 minutes

CLICK HERE for trailers of upcoming theatrical releases.

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