By Aaron Mesh
If you're a big fan of 24 but wish the first season could be condensed into a 90-minute episode, with Liam Neeson in the Kiefer Sutherland role: Congratulations, you have your movie.
But as you settle into your prime seat for Taken, I have to ask—what else do you wish for? Do you want a raucous bachelor party that ends promptly at 9:45 pm, with all the shots replaced by a vintage port? Does your ideal World Series last exactly one inning, with George Plimpton as the only pitcher? Anyway, your dream has been fulfilled. The rest of us can go on with our lives.
Oh, but it is not that easy for Neeson's Bryan Mills, a retired spook made so mistrustful by years of government service that he won't even consider allowing his teenage daughter a summer trip to Paris. (It somehow doesn't soften his stance that his baby girl is played by Maggie Grace, who is 25 years old and three years ago played an adult castaway on Lost. )
Thanks to a number of disgusted looks from his permissive wife (Famke Janssen) he relents, his kid goes to France and—wouldn't you know?—within minutes of landing, she is abducted by Albanian white slavers. Only one man possesses the skills required to save her from unthinkable defilement in the underground sex trade. Fortunately, that man has no qualms about electrically torturing an immigrant to death or shooting the wife of a French official to obtain information. ("It's a flesh wound!" he shouts at her husband by way of justification. Come on, you pansy.)
The most confusing aspect of Taken—which isn't exactly a complicated movie—is that it has played for the better part of a year in Europe before being released in the States, even though it features a hero who pledges, "I will tear down the Eiffel Tower if I have to."
In fact, as director Pierre Morel confirms every single one of Bryan Mills' worst beliefs about foreign travel, it's hard not to suspect that the Frenchman is mocking an American isolationist's conjectures of corrupt Continental decadence. If so, neither he nor Neeson ever wink as the kidnapping is traced back to a bloated Arab sheik with depraved erotic tastes.
On second thought, forget the xenophobia—why does Taken have to be so sex-negative? Can't a potentate deflower a virgin in peace anymore, without Liam Neeson gumming up the business?