One would think a movie in which a father is frantically trying to prevent his kidnapped teenage daughter from being sold into an underground sex worker network in Eastern Europe would be willing to take some chances. If one made this assumption about "Taken," the fast-paced, justice-seeking thriller starring Liam Neeson, one would be wrong. "Taken" somehow manages the difficult task of being both completely exciting and utterly boring. It's exciting because of the drastic and desperate measures a father is willing to take to get his daughter back from a group of rotten human beings, and boring because it plays out exactly like you'd expect it to. The story doesn't take any chances in becoming any better than it already is, although there would have been plenty of opportunity for "Taken" to become more than a cat-and-mouse game.
Neeson is Bryan Mills, a former spy who is trying to get back into the life of his daughter Kim (Maggie Grace), whom he's spent most of his life away from due to career priorities. When she asks him to allow her to go on a trip to Paris with a friend, he is immediately uncomfortable with it, knowing how cruel the world can be to anyone, let alone a naïve American teen in a foreign-speaking land. He eventually and reluctantly agrees to let her go.
It doesn't take long for her to make the frantic call (seen in the trailer) to her father shortly before being snatched from underneath a bed by a group of intruders. Mills is immediately out of retirement, promising in a brief conversation with the kidnapper that his special set of skills acquired in a lengthy career will allow him to find and kill he who brings harm to his daughter.
As Mills finds out more about the Albanian group of criminals responsible for his daughter's kidnapping, he discovers he's got about four days before she's so deep into the sex slave underworld that he's likely to never see her again.
The action hits fast and hard from here out, as Neeson slices, dices and karate chops his way through massive numbers of bad guys. In terms of his skills set, Mills is pretty much a mid-life version of the Jason Bourne character. There's no sports car he can't race (the wrong way, no less) through crowded Parisian streets, thugs he can't put into the unconscious state in 0.7 seconds and compromising situations he can't escape.
There's no denying the fact that the 93 minutes of "Taken" are full to the brim with non-stop Agent 007-ish action, which makes up in some ways for a lacking storyline. Still, once you see how quickly and easily things tend to go for the spy Mills in his quest to find his offspring, there should be no doubt in the viewer's mind how this story is going to end up. The only question is how many body bags will be needed to clean up the mess.
As such, "Taken" successfully completes its mission as an easy-to-digest, not-too-complicated thriller. Seeing as how America loves its not-too-complicated fare (see the recent success of "Paul Blart: Mall Cop" if you've got any doubts), this should be a well-received popcorn action flick by many. It's mindless fun, but fun regardless (as fun as a movie about the slave trade can be, anyway).
Just don't get "taken" into thinking it's anything more than that.
Joel Sensenig is news editor of the Review Times.