Cock-blockalypse now

Taken
Director: Pierre Morel
Screenwriter: Pierre Morel
Cast: Liam Neeson, Maggie Grace, Katie Cassidy, Anjul Nigam, Goran Kostic, Holly Valance
Release Date: 2009-01-28
Rated: PG-13
Genre: Film

“You have to lose it sometime,” admonishes Amanda (Cassidy), the brash, blond best friend of Kim (Grace) — no last names needed, because we all know a Kim and Amanda. The two underage girls have pressured their wealthy parents into funding a trek across sexy, uninhibited Europe, and Paris is the first stop … sexy, sexy Paris. Amanda’s already made a date, excited by the prospect of a male Parisian specimen doing what Frenchmen stereotypically do best.

Amanda will be dead very soon. Chaste Kim will be kidnapped and sold into slavery. And Kim’s daddy warned her about all of this.

The Luc Besson–assisted Taken, bafflingly rated PG-13 for a tween audience despite a body count that rivals Robocop, is an unapologetic parable for today’s panicked father: You know, those Freudian-nightmare dads who take their daughters – often as young as 4 years old – to Christian “purity balls,” dances at which the fathers bequeath their little girl rings or charms in the shape of a lock. The father holds the key until the right guy comes along to marry Daddy’s property. Imagine what kind of person that father must be to rationalize holding the key to his daughter’s vagina.

Now imagine that father’s worst nightmare. Would it involve Europeans and vaguely Muslim-looking businessmen? Drugs and, naturally, degenerate sex? What would that father fantasize about doing in that situation?

Liam Neeson is that father, and what he does is mow down half of Europe to preserve his daughter’s wholesomeness. Kim wants to be a pure pop star, and he intends to make that happen for her. So when she’s kidnapped by human traffickers — a genuine epidemic that wasn’t exactly begging for a vengeance tale to shed light on it — Neeson employs every trick in his former-spy handbag. After all, the sellers brag, Kim is “certified pure.” As if such certification is possible.

From Kim’s frantic phone call to Neeson’s assured, fueled-by-rage rescue attempts, Taken is a completely enjoyable, low-key actioner. Neeson’s Bryan Mills is levelheaded and politically connected, so his under-the-radar op carries an air of elegance and professionalism. Even the Albanian villains come off as sophisticated in their evildoing. Each side knows how movies like this flow and both are happy to play out their parts.

Pierre Morel, Besson’s sometime cinematographer, handles the film’s direction capably; he’s a more promising Besson protégé than Louis Leterrier (The Transporter 2) because he seems slightly above the action, and it rubs off on the performances. Neeson’s overblown murderous efficiency feels ever-so-slightly ironic, and the credit belongs exclusively to Morel.

Still, the moralizing lingers. Do we really need to see Jessica Simpson’s dad, so to speak, as a modern-day Josey Wales, fending off underage sex with a spy’s mentality and a .45? It certainly doesn’t explain the mysteriously long delay on a U.S. release for Taken — the French production has been out for nearly a year overseas. I mean, the plot’s “ticking clock” is literally a European penis. Why would they even question how that would play here? •

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