Dual-nationality films rarely seem to work, especially European and American co-productions. Too often, rubbing together the familiar and the foreign alienates the audience, or genre conventions for one country fail to work for scenes in the other.
Bryan (Liam Neeson) is a former US spy with a broken marriage, to apparent social climber Lenore (Famke Janssen, X-Men trilogy), and a schmaltzily inconsequential relationship with teenage daughter Kim (Maggie Grace, from that dismal remake of The Fog, Shannon in TV series Lost). It really doesn’t help matters, for a concerned Bryan’s belated fatherly aspirations, that Lenore’s new beau is obviously stinking rich, easily affording a pony for Kim’s birthday – so Bryan’s gift of a karaoke player looks cheap and cheesy.
Worldly-wise Bryan objects to Kim’s plan for a trip to Paris with her friend Amanda (Katie Cassidy, remakes of Black Christmas and When A Stranger Calls), worrying about worst-case scenarios befalling naïve American girls in Europe yet, after quick second thoughts, he permits his cell-phone-equipped underage daughter’s overseas ‘adventure’ before discovering, too late, the girls’ holiday plans are not cultural and educational in nature, after all, but centre instead on following U2 on tour. Just off the plane in France, poor Kim and Amanda are immediately spotted at the airport, and ruthlessly tagged for kidnapping by Albanian gangsters, connected to crooked French politicians and Arabian slave traders.
Alerted by Kim’s frantic phone call, Bryan zaps into rescue mode. Soon our fiercely determined hero is fighting, torturing, and shooting – as he rips through numerous unsavoury denizens of the Parisian underworld, in scenes like something from ‘The Bourne Conscience’ or perhaps ’24 – Retribution’. Of course, back in the mid-1990s, Neeson was considered for the plum role of James Bond, but lost the job to slightly younger Irishman; Pierce Brosnan (probably because Brosnan’s acting CV included Remington Steele and TV-movie adaptations of Alistair MacLean’s spy thrillers, while Neeson’s relevant credibility was limited to masked antihero Dark Man). As lethally trained spook Bryan, there’s just no quarter given by Neeson’s professional hard man, so it’s interesting to wonder what strengths he might have brought to a characterisation of 007, particularly when brutal Bryan’s headlong charge here somewhat resembles the vengeful antics of Daniel Craig’s portrayal of Bond in Quantum Of Solace.
Sadly, despite Neeson’s obvious emotional commitment to making such a roundly dangerous protagonist into a fully sympathetic character without becoming a self-parody, the potential of Taken as a first-rate thriller dissipates while the vigilante hero is still only halfway to victory. With a plotline that’s largely predictable (happy ending’s guaranteed, or your money back!), this drama fails to maintain the same levels of narrative energy as Pierre Morel’s previous directorial outing, District 13, and Taken remains utterly devoid of any clever originality (oh dear, Holly Valance plays a pop star named ‘Sheerah’!), so it’s simply a worthy timewaster on fascistic responses to decadent or seedy corruption and amoral sleaze that doesn’t actually outstay its welcome.
Disc extras..? This home entertainment release is billed as an ‘extended harder cut’ with stronger violence, and a longer torture scene, resulting in the cinema version’s ’15’ certificate being upped to ’18’ by the BBFC.