Dads Gone Wild

Taken Running time 93 minutes Written by Luc Besson and Robert Mark Kamen Directed by Pierre Morel Starring Liam Neeson,

Running time 93 minutes
Written by Luc Besson and Robert Mark Kamen
Directed by Pierre Morel
Starring Liam Neeson, Maggie Grace, Famke Janssen

Liam Neeson was up for—but never got to play—James Bond, and now he’s getting even. In the violent, churning and laughably derivative action bruiser Taken, he’s a suave, power-knuckled and once-lethal secret agent named Bryan Mills who, in truth, is just as mean as 007 but maybe slightly more human (he’s an ex-husband, as well as a parent who loves his child unconditionally). And he’s paid a price for his fists. Bryan once devoted so much concentration and energy to his job as a “preventer” (“I prevented bad things from happening”) that his wife (a wasted Famke Janssen, who usually plays these roles herself) left him for a rich California businessman and took their daughter with them. So Bryan retired, moved to Los Angeles to make up for the frayed relationship with his estranged daughter Kim and sacrificed his own career to be near her. All he does now is grill steaks for his buddies and work occasional security jobs like guarding pop stars at rock concerts. But old habits die hard, and Bryan has forgotten none of the special skills he learned from his years with the C.I.A.—a knowledge of weapons, wiretaps, deciphering secret codes, scaling buildings like Batman and wiping out anything that gets in his way without regret—if he suddenly needs them. When his virginal 17-year-old (huh? In L.A.?) embarks with her girlfriend on a whirlwind tour following the rock group U2 across Europe and, within hours of her arrival in Paris, gets kidnapped by Albanian white slavers, Bryan shifts into demolition mode and takes no prisoners. He may be a has-been, but within 96 hours he’s torn down everything in Paris with his bare hands except the Eiffel Tower.

First, he leaves a message on the kidnappers’ cell phone, which just happens to be lying under the bed where his daughter is hiding: “I will look for you. I will find you. And I will kill you.” He does, of course, but not before he slam-dunks his way through the City of Light, turning it into darkness. Equipped with Uzis, knives, swords and even an electric chair, Bryan works without official supervision or an expense account, yet never seems to run out of steam or cash. And there is no limit to his ability to tap international phone lines, spark the ignition in foreign cars without keys and find new ways to torture and kill his victims. In one scene, when he fails to get the right answer from a man strapped to a chair in the middle of a brutal interrogation, he electrocutes him, filling the room with smoke, fire and the smell of burning flesh. Each new victim (including some of France’s leading power players) only piques the simmering rage of a vengeful parent, and we all know that a dangerous secret agent with a mission makes for panic in the streets. Turning the tables on master fiends, police officials and their families, ransacking Paris for clues, Bryan ends up in a shootout on a luxury yacht on the Seine only minutes before Kim is to be raped by an Arab sheik who looks like Jabba the Hutt.

To be generous, it’s far-fetched to a fault. Worse still, it’s all been done before. Moving from the theme of vigilante dad (Death Wish), to the strategies of slave traders who traffic girls into prostitution on Internet auctions (Trade), to the tragic spectacle of a scrupulous outsider who slides down the sinkhole of an alternate underworld universe of crime, decadence and perversion (Paul Schrader’s Hardcore), this hack job has not a shred of originality. Liam Neeson is an unconventional choice to play an action hero. His big, wrinkled smile is at dismaying odds with the lurid mayhem that surrounds him, and how does a brawny American C.I.A. operative account for that lyrical Irish accent? In the end, nobody is called to task for the bodies that litter the streets of Paris, the automobiles and real estate that lie in rubbish left behind or the heroin injections that have mysteriously worn off, leaving Kim heading home to a career as a rock star. Taken is the kind of exploitative junk everyone expects from no-talent French hack Luc Besson, who made the dreadful Transporter films, although this time out he’s only the producer and the co-writer of the moronic script, leaving the ossified direction to Pierre Morel. After this horror, you might think twice about sending a teenager to Paris without a chaperone, but it could be worse. She might end up in a movie like Taken.

Dads Gone Wild