Taken is the latest film from the French film-maker Luc Besson and is about American, ex-CIA agent Bryan Mills (Liam Neeson) who turns Paris upside down — ‘I’ll tear down the Eiffel Tower if I have to!’ — in his search for his abducted, 17-year-old daughter, Kim, although, personally, I wouldn’t have bothered. Kim is so irritating. Kim is so excitable and such a pampered flouncer to boot. ‘Bryan,’ I’d have said to him if I could, ‘you’re better off without her; so excitable and such a pampered flouncer to boot. Now, let’s go eat.’ But doting dads are doting dads, I guess, and there is just no stopping him, which is a shame, as what follows is a big sorry mess of the most clichéed, improbable and xenophobic kind. ‘Bryan,’ I’d have also said,’ I am very hungry and if I don’t have supper soon I shall faint.’ I probably wouldn’t have fainted — have yet to faint, ever — but I think I’d have tried anything, pulled out all the stops. Still, I wouldn’t have added that I’d tear down the Eiffel Tower if I had to, as that’s just silly.
The film opens in California; happy, sunny California where you are safe because bad, swarthy foreigners can’t get to you. That’s the feeling, anyway, and it is weird, I agree. After all, Besson is French and Neeson is Irish but there you have it. There must just be no accounting for pro-American fervour and sentimentalism sometimes, although an eye on the box office must help. Anyway, we are introduced to Bryan: big, tough Bryan who has retired early so he can live nearer to and get closer to ‘Kimmy’, who lives with his ex-wife and her husband, Stuart, a zillionaire. Stuart is always outclassing Bryan. Bryan gives Kim a karaoke machine for her 17th birthday. Stuart gives her a pony. Ouch! That cliché always hurts. And, boy, does Kim squeal excitedly when she sees that pony. Kim, you are already thinking, deserves whatever is coming to her. Bring it on! Lay her out!
What is coming to Kim? Well, Kim wants to go on a trip to Paris with her friend Amanda, another pampered babe of the flouncing kind, but daddy won’t have it. He knows the world and there are bad people out there, he tells Kim. Hell’s bells, they probably lace the croissants with crack in Paris. Still, he eventually consents with strict warnings about phoning every ten minutes. So Kim and Amanda fly off for what would have been a lovely trip had they not been kidnapped by swarthy, sex-slave traffickers the moment they arrive. Seriously, they don’t even get a chance to unpack. That’s how evil Paris is. We know we are in France, by the way, because all the French men carry baguettes, which is always a sign. And they are probably on their way to a game of boules.
Anyway, Bryan’s not having it, obviously, and yet as he snaps so does everything else: narrative logic; characterisation; believability. When Bryan hooks a girl up to an IV drip in his hotel room, we’re meant to believe he always travels with an IV drip and bag of saline to hand? When voice recognition software identifies not just what country the kidnapper comes from, but also what village, in about ten seconds, we are meant to believe that, too? Aside from brief intervals of moronic plotting, Taken is mostly just hell-for-leather action sequences: car chases; punch-ups; and Bryan being outnumbered ten to one, yet surviving without so much as a bruise or rent in his suit. The bad guys, by the way, would have been from LA if they hadn’t been from Albania.
I can’t account for it, really. Besson, as a writer and director, has been behind some perfectly decent films (La Femme Nikita, The Fifth Element) and has also produced quite a number of truly good ones (Nil By Mouth, Tell No One) but this, billed as a taut thriller, is neither taut nor thrilling. It’s just nonsense. And as for Neeson, he plays Bryan rather like Daniel Craig as Bond, but without the irony or the Speedos, and we all know how far irony and Speedos can take a film. Truly, this is one to skip. Taken by name but not, alas, by nature, as it doesn’t take you anywhere. Forget it.