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These are a few thoughts on the 2008 Liam Neeson vehicle Taken:

1. What a piece of crap.
2. How much did they have to pay Tony Gilroy for borrowing all his ideas?

In this film, Liam Neeson is some sort of super-spy who quits his shadowy agency to go live near his estranged daughter in California–I guess shadowy agencies do not allow their agents to live more than 20 miles from Langley, VA while still on active duty.  And if they’re that stuck in the Mad Men era, they also don’t allow flextime or a 4-day workweek.  Anyway, Liam is sort of like an older, more careworn, Jason Bourne.  He walks around with a worried look on his face, like he can’t remember the last 4 digits of his secret Swiss account.  When his daughter recklessly insists on traveling with only a single friend to one of the most dangerous cities known to man — Paris, France — she, of course, is kidnapped by human traffickers, just like he knew she would be.   Then Neeson has to hunt down all the traffickers and kill them.

And that’s not really a spoiler, because even the IMDB tagline says, “They took his daughter. He’ll take their lives” Yeah, I know: it’s subtle.  That’s because the writer and director are both French.

But for anyone who’s interested in seeing this film, the rest of this post is nothing but spoilers. In fact, I’m going to give away the entire plot, so if you haven’t seen it and you care enough about it, you shouldn’t read on. But the spoilers are also here to save you from seeing it, so my advice to you is: read it, ruin it, and go see The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo instead.

You’d think this would have been a great little thriller, but it was actually pretty awful. Probably not “Clash of the Titans” awful, but pretty bad nonetheless. The kidnapping scene itself was decent, pretty tense, difficult-but-exciting-to-follow. But everything else was ham-handed and predictable and, worse, copied directly from the Jason Bourne movies.

In fact I think the title Taken is shorthand for Taken Directly From Jason Bourne. For example, Matt Damon walked around the edge of a building on a too-narrow ledge at a great height? Well then, Liam Neeson has to walk around the edge of a building on a too-narrow ledge at a great height. Matt Damon appears in his enemy’s house and has already secretly taken the bullets from the guy’s “secret” pistol? Liam does the same. Damon has medical knowledge enough to take out his own bullets and give himself anti-infection boosters? Liam has enough medical knowledge to counteract some unspecified drug in a prostitute’s system and bring her back to consciousness. I lost count of all the moments where I came out of the story because of the nagging knowledge that the spooks at Langley had trained Liam’s character by watching Bourne’s films.

Of course in our enlightened age, nobody would make one of those films where all the good guys are paranoid white Americans and all the bad guys have foreign accents (strong accents indicating greater bad-guy-ness).

Oh yes they would. In Taken, the French are white-collar evil (the film is written and directed by French guys, so they know), the Albanians are street-level evil, and the Saudis are viciously, deeply, richly evil. Oh, and rich, non-paranoid Americans are just insipidly and passively evil. And blonde girls are stupid.

Then there’s the dialog. The tin of the proverbial tin ear, is a finely tunable, instrument-grade rare-earth metal compared to the unrefined iron-ore these guys’ ears of are made of. And there’s a clunky framing device where the loving but lunky dad (Neeson) gives his daughter a dime-store karaoke machine while the insipid but wildly wealthy step-dad gives her a horse that will probably be the lead item in next year’s Kentucky Derby. And then there’s the second clunky framing device where the lunky but paranoid and always-right dad (Neeson, still) saves Britney Spears from a knifing so that at the end he can give his daughter the gift of voice lessons with Britney’s voice teacher at Britney’s house; much nicer than that smelly old horse, you betcha.

What felt interesting (in an analytical sort of way) was how it seemed like they knew they were missing the boat on originality and plot, so they thought, well, at least we can raise the stakes — we’ll make this about human trafficking and show how ordinary young girls can be kidnapped and quickly ruined and conditioned into a life of prostitution. Pretty freaking evil, by any standards. And they got that part right — I felt like I was seeing the whole chain of criminal activity that it takes to make human trafficking work.

But you can only shorthand so many plot elements before a film starts to feel more like dictation than drama, and this one felt like it came right off the steno-pad.

Written by Alan

April 26th, 2010 at 6:21 pm

Posted in Film