Picture the Bourne trilogy written by the guy who gave us the Transporter trilogy and released in January for a reason: you’ve got Taken, a 90-minute movie that requires an even lower set of expectations for the first month of the year’s batch of releases. There’s a reason this month has a reputation for the blah movies. Taken is blah with a dash of action that you can’t really make out thanks to the overused shaky-cam approach to all action now.
The film stars Liam Neeson as Bryan Mills, a retired CIA operative who wants to reconnect with his daughter, who is now 17 and living with his ex-wife and her new, rich husband. Bryan buys her a karaoke machine; the step-dad buys her a horse. Mills sort of shrinks back, waiting for his next chance to connect with his daughter. We know that he loves his daughter because he tells us over and over and over again. He tells us when he’s on the phone, he tells us when he sees his ex-wife and he tells us when he tells his ex-CIA buddies. I suppose this counts as “creating an emotional arc” for his character. So the first piece is in place. The audience now gets that he loves his kid. The next piece is to show off his “particular set of skills” that he has acquired during his career. This is accomplished by having Mills and his buddies play bodyguard to a pop star. This scene seems to exist solely to a) show off said skills and b) have something for the movie to end on. Mills gets to show off his training and thus we the audience get to see that Mr. Mills is as sharp and skilled as Liam Neeson doesn’t look in this movie.
His daughter convinces him to let her go with her friend to France to see the museums, or, as it turns out, follow U2 across Europe. She arrives in the city, but her plans are soon (like, maybe an hour into the trip) upended as she is kidnapped. And so the movie has set us to follow Mills as he uses his CIA abilities to track down and rescue his daughter from a human trafficking/prostitution ring. What follows is a solid hour of implausible action scenes, explosions, fake IDs, seedy businessmen and Liam Neeson keeping pace on foot with a speeding Audi. The movie borrows heavily from the tone of the Bourne trilogy (and kind of sort of ends like it’s paying homage to Under Siege, which I’m sort of cool with), but it feels like a cheap knock-off rather than a movie that was inspired. And just when you thought you could rely on Neeson to at least bring some skills to the table in whatever he was in (he made Lucas’s dialogue palatable, for god’s sake), Mr. Neeson throws you for a curve by presenting a performance expected from Community Theater. If Famke Janssen is running acting circles around you, you’ve got a problem.
I walked out of Taken and said, “This was a bad movie.” But in hindsight, I don’t think it was a bad movie. It just wasn’t a good movie. It did make me think, though. Have I changed? Can I not enjoy a mindless action/revenge movie any more? Must they all have depth and “a message”? But I think the answer is no. I still think movies like Predator and Commando are great. I think it’s because they cared. Taken just was. It didn’t seem to care. And neither did I.