"Taken," which tells the story of how Liam Neeson blows a gasket and flies off to France and kills 75 Albanians in 90 minutes, is crisp, efficient and deeply insane. Neeson, who now resembles an aging Labrador retriever, all angles and mournful eyes and jumpy eagerness, plays a former CIA spook whose clandestine career bled into his home and made blood sausage of his family. His wife has divorced him, taken their 17-year-old daughter and remarried. She now lives a life of entitlement behind the stone walls of a Los Angeles mansion, the estate of her new industrialist husband. Neeson's character, Bryan Mills, is so protective of his daughter that he moves to L.A. to be within reach of her. He is paranoid about the potential dangers, and so humorless he could be played for parody—thankfully, though, St. Guilty Pleasure has shined upon us, and this thing is serious.
It also feels, already, a couple of weeks into the Obama administration, like a relic of a former political atmosphere—despite being made by French producer Luc Besson and some of the European folks behind that hurtling go-go-go "Transporter" series. The bad guys are French, Eastern European and generic Middle Eastern stereotypes. And although Daddy means well, he tears apart society to prove it. But first: Bryan's daughter (Maggie Grace) asks to fly to Europe with her best friend, and Bryan says this is a bad idea because there are evildoers in the world, but his daughter says she just wants to follow U2 across the Continent ("all the kids do it," Bryan's wife says), so Bryan agrees begrudgingly, and within minutes—nay, seconds—of stepping into Charles de Gaulle International, his daughter and friend are kidnapped by sex traffickers. Told ya. The good news is they've been spared sitting through 17 renditions of "Where the Streets Have No Name." The bad news is they're about to be sold into slavery.
Bryan has 96 hours to find her. Why 96? Because that's the number his fellow former-CIA friends pull out of their, ahem, back pockets. After the first 20 minutes, however—during which I found myself pining for the days of Generic Harrison Ford Action Vehicles and that signature scowl ("Give me back my daughter!" "Get off my plane!")—it wasn't hard settling into Oskar Schindler, Avenging Angel. Neeson is too smart an actor to step into the path of a picture with this much forward momentum.
The movie overheats cleanly around him, moving from nuts to stupid without pausing for sentiment or logic or even the sort of basic explanation most filmmakers would accept as fundamental. Instead, see this and you will want to slam someone's head against a table, which is a nice feeling, assuming you don't act on it. "You can't run around tearing down Paris," friend Jean-Claude tells Bryan. "I would tear down the Eiffel Tower, Jean-Claude!" he shouts, then proceeds to karate chop his way through mimes, baguette peddlers and the cast of Cirque du Soleil (if I remember correctly). Neeson is cold-eyed and brutal, Jason Bourne-esque, as he works his way ever closer to his daughter, who may already be drugged and shipped away to Whoknowswhere. There is no mythology, no irony, no real soul—just a Charles Bronson simplicity about the whole affair. Which, in the hands of director Pierre Morel, of the equally speedy "District B13," is the whole point—an entertaining appreciation of efficiency itself.
MPAA rating: PG-13 (for intense sequences of violence, disturbing thematic material, sexual content, some drug references and language) Running time: 1:31 Opening: Friday Starring: Liam Neeson (Bryan Mills); Maggie Grace (Kim); Leland Orser (Sam); Katie Cassidy (Amanda); Famke Janssen (Lenore) Directed by: Pierre Morel; written by Luc Besson and Robert Mark Kamen; photographed by Michel Abramowicz; edited by Frederic Thoraval; production design by Hugues Tissandier; music by Nathaniel Mechaly; produced by Besson. A 20th Century Fox release.Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times