Liam Neeson does whatever it takes to find his daughter in the action-packed <em>Taken</em>.

It’s February, and we collectively understand that this is the season of the blahs in the Hollywood multiplex scene. And sure enough, the Liam Neeson vehicle Taken lives down to our low expectations this winter. What the film does have going for it-and what makes it almost worth the price of admission and popcorn-is the chance to catch the normally stoic Neeson play a CIA agent desperately seeking his kidnapped teenage daughter in Parisian demimondes, and kicking some major ass. He’s a bad mama jama who penetrates darker quarters and leaves a trail of bruised, battered, and lifeless bodies.

Underscoring the film’s gritty and mostly fast-paced, body-littered race to the finish is an ostensibly emotionally powered narrative, with a script cowritten by arty-action French director Luc (La Femme Nikita) Besson. At root, after all, is a father’s desperate and unstoppable effort to rescue his daughter, a primal parental urge. Along the way, he muscles his way through Albanian thugs on the woman-trafficking circuit, corrupt officials and a virgin seeking, price-is-no-object sheik. Most of them will be toast by film’s end.

But the parental subplot is handled so casually, as just a handy twist to hang the chase and fight scenes on, that the angle almost seems cynical. This is no latter-day variation on the theme of Paul Schrader’s Hardcore, in which Calvinist Midwestern father George C. Scott forces his way into the porn underworld to find his daughter. In that film, the father has a harrowing journey of realization-of the self and social types-and moves from the middle to the far fringes in search of redemption.

In Taken, Neeson is already privy to the world of bad guys, even in high places, and duly paranoid for having the knowledge. Is the film, in some way, a cautionary tale about what could happen to young women traveling in Europe? More to the point, rather than trying to wring some deeper meaning, consider it a joyride steered by the steely Neeson getting mad, and very much getting even.


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