With the Jason Bourne movies raking in top dollars, it's surprising that we haven't seen more tough-and-tumble action movies over the last several years. From the director of The Transporter and a couple Jet Li movies comes Taken, a Bourne-esque action films that provides some much needed excitement for early 2009.
Taken starts off surprisingly slow given its short running time, setting up its characters, relationships and setting before switching into action mode. Liam Neeson stars as Bryan Mills, an ex-military operative who has retired to live closer to his daughter Kim (Maggie Grace). Though still struggling to form a strong bond with the daughter who has grown up with his ex-wife and her rich husband (Famke Janssen and Xander Berkeley), he reluctantly allows Kim to travel to Paris for the summer. It's not long, however, before Kim and her friend are kidnapped and thrust into a world of forced prostitution and drugs. Unfortunately for her captors, Kim's dad is very, very good at killing people.
Director Pierre Morel and co-writers Robert Mark Kamen and Luc Besson have concocted an enjoyable and exciting action film that works shockingly well given its PG-13 rating, unconventional star and, frankly, low expectations. Released in January on Super Bowl weekend, Taken seemed like a throwaway film - but it could end up being the first $100-million blockbuster of the year. Even though it's box office take thus far is surprising, its no wonder that the picture is receiving decent word of mouth: it is short, fast and enjoyably violent without ever going over the top. Of course, it's no Bourne Supremacy by any stretch of the imagination, but as far as clones go, it is about as good as you can expect. Taken is fast-paced, action-packed and well-acted, and that's all it really needs.
It's respectable that Morel and his writers patiently build the story for half an hour before getting into the action. Most B-grade action movies wouldn't want to risk boring its audience for that long before getting to the good stuff. Nonetheless, the first act works as a counterbalance to the rest of the film, establishing Bryan Mills as a likeable, loving father who just happens to have a "particular set of skills that make him dangerous for certain people." The first act isn't incredibly done, as it offers up an unnecessary subplot involving a singer and portrays Mills as ridiculously overprotective, but it is, once again, good enough.
Once Taken turns into an action movie, it does not let up. While it never meets the bar set by the Bourne movies, its fast-paced nature maintains a high-adrenaline level of excitement that doesn't let up until the last minute. There's plenty of punching, shooting, knife-fighting and explosions to satisfy any action fan, and thankfully the movie is grittier and more plausible than The Transporter. The movie is grounded by Neeson, who, like Matt Damon, is an actor that most people respect but few would picture as an action star. Taken does not feature one of Neeson's greater performances by any means, but any performance of his is still better than what most other actors could provide in the role.
Taken is a fun, exhilarating action movie with a good deal of violence that at times pushes its PG-13 rating. Considering its box office success, I would not be surprised to see a sequel within the next couple of years - and I'll be looking forward to it.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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