January 31, 2009

Hell Hath No Fury Like An Estranged Father Scorned!!

Now that my retrospectives for the past year, and my incessant bitching about the Oscar noms, have been completed, I can finally forge ahead with the real purpose of this blog; the reviews. So, how do I kick off the New Year, film wise? With Taken, or, as I prefer to think of it, Destroying Paris: How to Bring Down the Eiffel Tower, and Other Useful Skills.
Having just retired from his globe trotting, terrorist hunting job to spend more time with his family, Bryan Mills is off to a bit of a rocky start in the reconciliation department. His ex-wife, Lenore, and daughter, Kim, live a lavish life apart from him, and Bryan can't seem to fill the niche. He gets Kim a pretty stupid birthday present, while her new dad gets her... I think it's a pony, but it looks more like a thoroughbred. Anyway, he's having trouble. When Kim goes away for the summer with a friend to Paris, Bryan is less then thrilled, and with good reason. It takes Kim about five seconds to get herself kidnapped. Now, just in case it wasn't clear, Bryan really loves his daughter, so you can imagine how he takes the news of this. He goes into full revenge mode, hops on a charter plane to Paris, and proceeds to torture, shoot, cripple, maim, and kick the shit out of anyone that gets in his way. The idea of this retired geezer taking on what essentially amounts to a small army, is a bit absurd, but it's rooted in a very real and scary premise, giving this actioner a bit of legitimate weight rarely seen in films of this sort. 
Bryan is played by one of my all time favorite actors, Liam Neeson. This role is a bit of a far cry for him, given his resume. You wouldn't expect the person who played Oskar Schindler to torture a guy by stabbing him in the knees with metal nails, and then using said nails as electricity conductors. Cool scene. Any other actor would have balked at this material, and with good reason. It's a pretty shoddy script. But c'mon, it's Liam Neeson. The man can take a script, the quality of which resembles nuclear waste, and give it some sort of credibility, and he does. He's the best thing about this movie. It's a pleasure to see him in full badass mode, mowing down bad guys and what not. It's not something we get to see from him often, which makes it even more of a treat. The other major role falls to Maggie Grace as Kim. Fresh off her stint on Lost, she's pretty damn convincing as the damsel in distress. She has pretty shrill scream; I really think that's all that's needed. But no, really, she's passable. All the other roles are Eastern European slimeballs, just waiting for Neeson to give them a taste of his hot lead. Sorry, that just sounded wrong.
Director Pierre Morrel knows what he is doing when he films an action sequence. He showed us that much with the awesome District B13. This movie doesn't have Neeson performing flashy stunts and parkouring he way around Paris' buildings, though. It's much more down to earth, and, despite the PG-13 rating on the poster, much more brutal. That torture scene I made reference to earlier. That's just a taste. Rest assured, this is a tough movie to sit through if you have no tolerance for pain. Morrel sometimes gets a bit carried away with the action, pushing the limits believability in terms of what this guy can do. I find it very hard to believe that Bryan, who looks like he's pushing late 50s here, could pull off some of the stuff he does. But, I'm gonna let it slide, because Morrel knows how to craft characters we like, and characters we hate. Whenever Bryan gets a step closer to finding his daughter, usually by killing some slimy bad guy, you can't help but smile. The audience I was with even applauded at a few of the more juicy encounters. 
Now, don't get me wrong, this is not a movie to be taken seriously. Some of the stuff that happens is so absurd, you can't help rolling your eyes. The script is a little on the side of uncomfortable, and the actors, yes, even Neeson, can't really elevate above a certain level of cheese. But, when the movie reaches it's immensely satisfying, action packed final act, all sins are forgiven.
Taken is one of those movies where you must check your brain at the box office before buying the Coke and RedVines. Think too hard about it, and you will be disappointed. It's best to appreciate it on it's own merits, those being, bone crunching action, decent acting, and stylish direction. It's premise is very real world; all parents should take precautions if they let their child travel to other countries by themselves. But, if Liam Neeson is your dad, you'll be ok. Here's hoping he'll return for the sequel, Destroying Barcelona: How to Raze the Sagrada Familia, and Other Abilities Pertinent in an Action Movie! B

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