The risible thriller Taken has a message for overprotective fathers everywhere: Don't let your teenage daughter go overseas. She's almost certain to be abducted by Albanian sex traffickers. After reluctantly agreeing to allow his spoiled 17-year-old (Maggie Grace) to spend the summer in Paris with a friend, ex-spy and estranged single father Liam Neeson braces himself for the inevitable the moment she passes through airport security. (He even takes a photo for posterity, knowing it could be the last time he ever sees her.) Back at his apartment, he waits and waits and waits for her to call. When she finally does, in distress over three men invading her Paris flat, Neeson is right there with a briefcase full of high-tech recording equipment, giving her instructions. Apparently, he's been keeping the case around as his personal "Break Glass In Case Of Emergency Involving Albanian Sex Traffickers" safeguard.
Neeson's readiness for worst-case scenarios—and screenwriters Luc Besson and Robert Mark Kamen's proficiency in queuing them up—fuels the high-octane lunacy of Taken, which is a little like Paul Schrader's Hardcore retooled as a Steven Seagal vehicle. Having a thespian of Neeson's caliber chopping down burly henchmen with his bare hands creates a pleasant cognitive dissonance for a while, but the film is unworthy of him. Director Pierre Morel also collaborated with Besson on the far more entertaining District B13, but Taken's subject matter is too serious for an escapist chop-socky movie, and the sleazy, exploitative tone undercuts the thrills. Where Hardcore muddied the waters by questioning how far George C. Scott would take his odyssey into the porn underworld, and at what cost to his soul—Taken never doubts Neeson's righteousness, even when he's torturing a bad guy with electrical wire or clipping a perfectly innocent woman in the arm just to get information. He's a thug, and though it takes some time to see past the sensitive Neeson of Schindler's List or Husbands And Wives, he slips all too easily into the role.