A word of caution to any teenage girls planning to spend their summer vacations in Europe: Do not let your parents anywhere near Taken or risk being locked in your room with no hope of parole until you're 35.
A parent's worst nightmare writ large in flashing neon letters, Taken centers on the abduction of two 17-year-old American tourists, Kim (Maggie Grace) and Amanda (Katie Cassidy), mere hours after arriving in Paris for what was supposed to be a month-long trek following U2 around on tour through Europe.
Fortunately, Kim's father Bryan (Liam Neeson) happens to be a retired ex-CIA agent, one badass enough to take on Jason Bourne and James Bond and make them cower and beg for mercy - at the same time. Bryan, whose previous devotion to his career cost him his wife (Famke Janssen, bristling with bitter resentment) and daughter, was trying to make up for lost time when he reluctantly consented to allow Kim to jet overseas, despite his apprehensions. "Mom says your job made you paranoid," Kim tells him as he drives her to the airport. "My job made me aware," he replies.
So he's not at all surprised when the worst happens, and he immediately pounces into rescue mode, as if he had been expecting it all along. Director Pierre Morel (District B-13) paces Taken with the same brisk efficiency and ruthlessness Bryan uses to find his daughter (the movie clocks in at a quick 87 minutes, minus end credits), so even though the film is pure formula, there isn't a single moment in it when you start growing impatient.
Even the obligatory exposition at the start of the picture breezes by, because Neeson (unlike, say, Harrison Ford, who would have probably starred in this movie 10 years ago) is as good of a dramatic actor as he is a kick-butt action hero. It's almost as much fun watching Neeson and Janssen trading barbed-wire jabs as it is seeing Neeson wreak great and painful havoc on the men who have kidnapped his daughter. Almost.
Those men come from practically every country in Europe: Taken is an equal-opportunity offender when it comes to caricatures of sleazy, villainous foreigners, including, of course, the French, who come off all high and mighty but turn out to be the lowest of all.
Such developments are all in the spirit of the rousing B-picture Taken is at heart. It excels at making you feel really good when the bad guys get theirs, which happens constantly after the first 20 minutes. Like any half-decent thriller involving CIA superagents should, Taken also teaches you a couple of tricks that will come in handy if you should find yourself in a similar situation (including how to avoid being located via satellite while using a cellphone to taunt the authorities).
Neeson's estimable presence adds a level of class to what could have easily degenerated into a mere Death Wish knock-off. This is still a Death Wish knock-off, but it's a lot better acted than any of Charles Bronson's pictures. And hearing him spout lines like "I can have 30 agents here before you have time to scratch your worthless balls" is a lot more fun than having Jean Claude Van Damme recite the same dialogue. Neeson's an actor, you know?
Taken is nonsense, but it's terrifically entertaining nonsense, especially in the midst of the January movie doldrums. It provides the reckless thrills that Quantum of Solace lacked. It also offers further refinement on a lesson an old TV sitcom once taught us: When it comes to rescuing kids from multinational human trafficking rings, father really does know best.