To his divorced wife and estranged 17-year-old daughter, Bryan Mills is Mr. Worry Wart. Propose an idyllic summer vacation in Paris for the little miss and all he can do is whine about the risk and worry that "you have no idea what the world is like." Telling him not to fret, he says, is "like telling water not to be wet." It turns out, however, that Bryan Mills has his reasons.
For, in a plot that threatens to put a serious dent in the French tourism industry, no sooner does that daughter set foot in the City of Light than she gets kidnapped by the most ruthless gang of Albanian white slavers the world has seen. And would you believe the only person who has the skills and the moxie to have even a chance of bringing her back alive is her disregarded dad?
This at least is the premise of "Taken," a brisk and violent action programmer that can't help being unintentionally silly at times. It's the English-language product of French director Pierre Morel ("District B13") and French producer-screenwriter Luc Besson and his American co-writer Robert Mark Kamen, and it benefits as much as it can from having Irish actor Liam Neeson in the starring role.
Neeson's Mills is a former CIA agent whose job was so deep into black ops that the closest he can come to describing it is saying he was "a preventer," someone who "prevented bad things from happening." Not as good as being "the decider," but close.
Mills is retired now, spending lonely nights consuming takeout Chinese food, because he wants to make up for years of career-enforced separation by getting closer to daughter Kim (Maggie Grace), who now lives with mother Lenore (Famke Janssen) and Lenore's wealthy new husband, a typically bloated L.A. plutocrat. Think of a clean and sober version of "The Wrestler's" Randy "The Ram" Robinson and you'll get the general idea of what's going on.
But as Mills himself says, "I'm retired, not dead," and when Kim and a friend get abducted by those amoral Albanians, he springs into action, letting the kidnappers know that he has "a very particular set of skills acquired over a very long career in the shadows, skills that make me a nightmare for people like you. . . . I will look for you, I will find you. And I will kill you." In that order.
Obviously, "Taken" is not the kind of action film to spend much time worrying about its pedestrian script or largely indifferent acting, so it's fortunate to have Neeson in the starring role.
A bit larger than life at 6 feet 4 and, in general, an actor who wears his heart on his sleeve, Neeson throws himself into this role, appearing in nearly every scene and making good use of a purposeful scowl that combines fury and disgust in equal measure.
Once on the hunt in Paris, however, Mills has more lethal skills to call upon than mere nasty looks. A relentless attack machine who is impervious to fists, bullets and fast-moving cars, he uses a variety of martial skills to knock out more opponents than Mike Tyson and casually kill those he doesn't KO.
Whether it's that unpleasant gang of marauding Albanians or a hoard of virginity-despoiling Arabs (some stereotypes simply refuse to die), Mills has the unflappable ability to put evil in its place. Innocent people do get shot in the process, but, hey, no one said this was going to be easy. "Tell your wife I apologize," Mills says to one man after one particularly egregious bit of shooting leaves a spouse bleeding on the floor. And they say that chivalry is dead.
MPAA rating: PG-13 for intense sequences of violence, disturbing thematic material, sexual content, some drug references and language
Running time: 1 hour, 31 minutes
Playing: In general release