A fleet, no-nonsense rescue thriller from the crackerjack French director Pierre Morel, Taken is satisfying (1) for the Gaelic gravitas of its star, (2) its slam-bang chase scenes and bone-snapping martial arts, and (3) the scenic backdrops (the Seine, the cafes, the swank apartments) of its bustling Paris locale. It's not every movie where the cop-in-charge carries a gun in one hand and a baguette in the other. Vive la France.
Cowritten and produced by Luc Besson, the Gallic filmmaker whose penchant for sleek, Hollywood-style shoot-em-ups produced La Femme Nikita, The Professional and The Transporter series, Taken begins somewhat in the vein of, er, Last Chance Harvey. That is, with a pathetic excuse for a father trying to make up for his years of absence and neglect, watching helplessly from the sidelines while his ex-wife and her new husband pour on the love. It's Kim's birthday, and Bryan, retired from the life of a covert op - a "preventer," he calls his old job - to be close at hand, proudly brings a karaoke machine as his gift to the big party. But then his replacement, a moneyed mogul who has taken ownership, so to speak, of Bryan's spouse and child, trots out his present to his step-daughter: a horse.
Famke Janssen is Lenore, Kim's mom and Bryan's ex, and she gets a few lectures in before the fateful cellphone call that sets Taken in motion. From then on, the admonishments and bickering go out the window - and Bryan goes running down the boulevards in pursuit of thugs and pimps, sex traders, depraved sheiks and crooked gendarmes.
Our hero's high-tech software and his network of former colleagues with satellite capabilities makes for a couple of too-convenient shortcuts. Is it really possible to pinpoint the hometown of an Albanian sleaze by the nuances of his accent? And is there only one building with a red door on all of Rue Paradis in Paris' 10th arrondissement? But no matter - far-fetched plot points are the inevitable by-product of a good, gripping thriller (and bad ones, too). And director Morel makes up for the implausibilities with deftly choreographed fights and gear-ripping car chases. Neeson, buff and all-business, is up to the task.
There's a xenophobic element to Taken's premise, to be sure - the idea that travel, even to Western Europe, isn't safe for Americans, and that foreigners (Albanians, Arabs) are by nature shifty and sinister.
"Mom said your job made you paranoid," Kim says to her father as he's driving her to LAX for the flight to France. "My job made me aware," Bryan corrects her.
Yes. And made it possible for Taken to take off.
Taken *** (out of four stars)
Directed by Pierre Morel. With Liam Neeson, Maggie Grace, Famke Janssen and Katie Cassidy. Distributed by Twentieth Century Fox Films.
Running time: 1 hour, 31 mins.
Parent's guide: PG-13 (violence, profanity, sex, drugs, adult themes)
Playing at: area theaters
Contact movie critic Steven Rea at 215-854-5629 or email@example.com. Read his blog, "On Movies Online," at http://go.philly.com/onmovies.