Taken

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PARIS -- Take one bankable, internationally acclaimed Hollywood star. Add two moderately priced actors with name recognition, any two. Concoct a plot, no matter how hackneyed -- for example, a retired CIA agent is forced into action when a gang of traffickers kidnaps his daughter. Throw in masses of fistfights, shootings and at least two high-octane car chases. Season with Paris settings, and bring to a happy ending. The result: a fair bet for boxoffice success.

EuropaCorp, Luc Besson's production, distribution and sales group, has become a past master of this kind of filmmaking-by-the-numbers, and "Taken," Pierre Morel's action thriller that Besson co-scripted, might do good business at home and abroad among audiences unconcerned with the finer points of characterization or psychological insight.

Liam Neeson plays ex-spook Bryan Mills, who is on the phone with his 17-year-old daughter, Kim (Maggie Grace), when she and her friend Amanda (Katie Cassidy) are abducted by members of what proves to be a group of Albanian traders in gullible young women. After some histrionics from Bryan's ex-wife and Kim's mother, Lenore (Famke Janssen), the action shifts rapidly from Los Angeles to Paris.

With subsequent developments, disbelief has to be not so much suspended as hanged by the neck until dead. The infinitely resourceful Bryan races around the city, extracting information from the most tenuous of clues as he tracks down his daughter's persecutors, dealing out death and vengeance along the way.

All his actions, including a particularly gruesome torture sequence, are justified in the name of "the family," a view adopted even by a corrupt French police official to explain away his own villainy.

Some of Bryan's escapes are of the "with-one-bound-he-was-free" variety -- so implausible as to be comic, though without the tongue-in-cheek irony of the James Bond movies.

Neeson fully earns his crust in his role as nonstop action man. Required by the script to limit his range to two basic expressions -- passionate concern for his daughter and implacable wrath for her abductors -- he manages on occasion to hint at vulnerabilities and flaws underlying the character.

Janssen and Grace, however, are trapped in two-dimensional roles, while the numerous bad guys are so briefly developed and so rapidly dispatched that the press kit does not consider it necessary to specify the actors' names. The villains, with few exceptions, are Easterners of varying degrees of odiousness, and the movie is unlikely to find admirers in Albania and the Arab world.

Morel, a veteran cinematographer directing his second feature -- his first, "District 13," also was produced and co-scripted by Besson out of the EuropaCorp. stable -- moves the action along briskly, serving a screenplay (co-authored by Robert Mark Kamen) that rarely rises above the strictly functional. High production values and wide promotion should ensure the movie enjoys its day in the sun.

TAKEN
20th Century Fox
20th Century Fox Film Prods./EuropaCorp
Credits:
Director: Pierre Morel
Screenwriters: Luc Besson, Robert Mark Kamen
Director of photography: Michel Abramowicz
Producer: Luc Besson
Executive producer: Didier Hoarau
Production designer: Hughes Tissandier
Costume designer: Olivier Beriot
Editor: Frederic Thoraval
Music: Nathaniel Mechaly
Cast:
Bryan: Liam Neeson
Kim: Maggie Grace
Lenore: Famke Janssen
Stuart: Xander Berkeley
Sam: Leland Orser
Casey: Jon Gries
Bernie: David Warshosky
Amanda: Katie Cassidy
Diva: Holly Valance
Jean-Claude: Olivier Rabourdin
Saint-Clair: Gerard Watkins
Peter: Nicolas Giraud
Running time -- 94 minutes
No MPAA rating

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