Apollo Theater

Liam Neeson makes a surprisingly convincing one-man mean machine in "Taken."

Without ever taking his shirt off, Liam Neeson makes a surprisingly convincing one-man mean machine in “Taken,” in which an ex-CIA agent rids Paris of most of its Albanian population while rescuing his darlin’ teen daughter from nasty white-slave traders. Very much in the style of other non-redemptive Euro shoot-‘em-ups from Luc Besson’s EuropaCorp stable (“The Transporter,” etc.), dumb, pedal-to-the-metal actioner will sit well with target auds in fast playoff before robust ancillary. Late February release in Gaul has already notched up a warm $4 million in its first two frames; Stateside release via Fox is skedded for September.

Onetime Langley grunt Bryan Mills (Neeson) has moved to Los Angeles to be near his spoiled 17-year-old daughter Kim (Maggie Grace), now embedded in a world of luxury since his ex-wife Lenore (Famke Janssen) married rich businessman Stuart (Xander Berkeley). When some ex-CIA pals offer him a night’s work bodyguarding a singer (Holly Valance), it’s clear Bryan has lost none of his Jason Bourne-like skills when he saves the diva from an attempted slaying.

Under pressure from Lenore, Bryan reluctantly agrees to let Kim go on a Euro trip with schoolfriend Amanda (Katie Cassidy). But when both girls are kidnapped by evil Albanians within minutes of their arrival, Bryan hops one of Stuart’s private jets to Paris to find her. He reckons he has 96 hours before Kim ends up a drug-addicted lump of white meat.

Besson alum Pierre Morel, who was d.p. on “The Transporter” and previously helmed 2004’s futuristic actioner “District B13,” wisely doesn’t give the viewer any time to ponder the string of unlikely coincidences in the script by Besson and regular scribe Robert Mark Kamen. From the actual kidnapping — breathlessly staged with Kim actually on the phone with dad — to Bryan arriving in Paris and immediately causing a pileup outside the airport, pic has the forward, devil-may-care momentum of a Bond movie on steroids.

With grudging help from former French intelligence op Jean-Claude (Olivier Rabourdin) and an Albanian translator (Goran Kostic), Bryan discovers and then trashes the baddies’ ramshackle brothel prior to tracking down kidnapper Marko (Arben Bajraktaraj) and his gang. He then learns Kim has been sold in a high-class auction arranged by a certain Patrice St. Clair (Gerard Watkins) for — natch! — Arab clients.

Interventionist politics of the movie, which plays like “Rambo in Paris,” hardly bear thinking about, but Neeson growls his way through the functional dialogue as an unstoppable killing machine in impressive, cold-eyed style. For a thesp now in his mid-50s, he handles the niftily edited, bone-crunching action way better than his scenes as a sappy, devoted father. Other thesps simply register as evil gun-fodder or script cutouts (including a wasted Janssen), with only Rabourdin suggesting anything like a real character.

Widescreen package is technically slick at all levels, and ditto the action choreography, in a cartoonish way.

Taken

France

Production

A EuropaCorp (in France)/20th Century Fox (in U.S.) release of a EuropaCorp presentation of a EuropaCorp, M6 Films, Grive Prods. production, with participation of Canal Plus, TPS Star. (International sales: EuropaCorp, Paris.) Produced by Luc Besson, Pierre-Ange Le Pogam, India Osborne. Executive producers, Didier Hoarau. Directed by Pierre Morel. Screenplay, Luc Besson, Robert Mark Kamen.

Crew

Camera (color, Panavision widescreen), Michel Abramowicz; editor, Frederic Thoraval; music, Nathaniel Mechaly; production designer, Hugues Tissandier; art director, Nanci Roberts (Los Angeles); costume designer, Corinne Bruand; sound (Dolby Digital/DTS Digital), Thomas Bernard, Alexandre Widmer; visual effects supervisor, Roxane Fechner; special effects supervisor, Georges Demetrau; stunt coordinator, Philippe Guegan; assistant director, Craig Borden; second unit camera, Carl Bartels; casting, Ferne Cassel, Nathalie Cheron. Reviewed at UGC George V 4, Paris, March 11, 2008. Running time: 91 MIN.

With

Liam Neeson, Maggie Grace, Famke Janssen, Leland Orser, Jon Gries, David Warshofsky, Holly Valance, Katie Cassidy, Xander Berkeley, Olivier Rabourdin, Gerard Watkins, Arben Bajraktaraj, Nathan Rippy, Camille Japy, Nicolas Giraud, Goran Kostic. (English, French, Albanian, Arabic dialogue)

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