(2009) ** Pg-13
91 min. 20th Century Fox Distribution. Director: Pierre Morel. Cast: Liam Neeson, Maggie Grace, Anjul Nigam, Goran Kostic, Holly Valance.

/content/films/3325/2.jpgWhat would it be like to have a government-trained agent in the family? Well, according to the new thriller Taken, the downside includes being subject to overprotectiveness and having to compete for attention with the job of serving America. But then there's the upside: if you're ever abducted to be sold into sex slavery, you're set. Liam Neeson plays the Jack Bauer-esque Bryan Mills, a retired CIA operative who, like Jack, has a teenage daughter with the name Kim and a talent for getting into trouble. When Albanian human traffickers snatch Kim (Maggie Grace of Lost) during the Paris leg of her Eurotrip, Mills resists the temptation to say "I told you so" to his daughter (who wanted her freedom, no strings attached) and his sour ex-wife (Famke Janssen), who recently complained, "You sacrificed our marriage to the service of the country."

The skills with which "preventer" Mills paid the bills come in mighty handy, first during the abduction itself. In the film's best scene--one showcased nearly in full in the trailer--Mills coaches his daughter on a transatlantic cell phone call and, finally, delivers a badass promise to the perpetrator: "I will look for you, I will find you, and I will kill you." And so goes Taken, a blunt-force narrative that grimly, and with little in the way of surprise, wends its way toward that foregone conclusion and beyond, to the rescue of his daughter. It's the latest seedy genre toss-off scripted by Luc Besson and Robert Mark Kamen but not directed by Besson (The Transporter, et al); this time, Pierre Morel’s at the helm.

With its clichéd Hardcore-meets-24 plot (complete with torture methodology and the ticking clock of four days to find Kim), Taken sometimes plays like poker-faced parody--or perhaps that's just wishful thinking on my part. A goofy subplot seemingly ripped from The Bodyguard leads to a denouement that's dying for a punchline (what I wouldn't give to hear Grace's Kim, an aspiring singer, turn out to be a world-class caterwauler). The filmmakers also prove supremely out of touch with American culture when Kim's mother explains, regarding Kim's plan to follow U2 from city to city on the band's European tour, "all the kids" are doing it. That's wrong on at least three levels. 

The magnetically morose Neeson makes a decent case for sticking with Taken, though the film's trashiness and his overqualified talent conspire to make him seem decidedly out of place. As in his sleeper action pic District B13, Morel does good work with a string of brutish and short action scenes—each conflagration’s brevity cuts the absurdity a bit and gives a taste of realism. Still, Morel can’t elevate the ridiculous script very far, and the exploitational "otherness" of the narrowly drawn bad guys, including an oily Arab sheik who wins Kim in an auction scene right out of Hostel II, leaves a bad taste. This one’s for those satisfied by well-paced shots of adrenaline and nothing more.

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Aspect ratios: 2.34:1

Number of discs: 1

Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1

Street date: 5/12/2009

Distributor: 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment

Taken hits Blu-ray in a 2-Disc Special Edition that, via seamless branching, presents both the Theatrical Version and an unrated Extended Cut (about two minutes longer). The solid transfer retains the film's gritty, grainy look with an image that will be familiar to those who viewed the film in theaters (though at home a bit of digital sharpening is evident in residual edge enhancement). The DTS-HD Lossless Master Audio 5.1 sound is everything you would hope for this action extravanganza: every car crash and gunshot packs a wallop, while dialogue remains clear and crisp.

Three feature playback options enhance the experience: Extended Cut audio commentary by director Pierre Morel, cinematographer Michel Abramowicz and car stunt supervisor Michel Julienne; Extended Cut audio commentary by co-screenwriter Robert Mark Kamen; and Black Ops Field Manual, a Picture-in-Picture track offering "geographical locators and anatomical information, along with a self-updating mission dashboard."

If you're not already on information overload, proceed to "Le Making-Of" (18:24, SD), which features behind-the-scenes footage and extensive interviews with Liam Neeson, Morel, and Maggie Grace.

"Avant Premiere" (4:48, HD) includes red carpet interviews and a bit of a pre-screening introduction with Neeson, Morel, and co-screenwriter/producer Luc Besson.

Last up are six "Inside Action: Side-by-Side Scene Comparisons" (11:05 with "Play All" option, HD) that compare finished scenes with behind-the-scenes footage of how they were captured on film. The scenes are "Peter Dies," "Bryan Escapes Construction Site," "Good Luck," "The Interrogation," "Bryan at Saint Clair's" and "Boat Fight."

There's a Digital Copy of the Extended Cut on Disc Two for various portable playback options.

Review gear:
Panasonic Viera TC-P55VT30 55" Plasma 1080p 3D HDTV
Oppo BDP-93 Universal Network 3D Blu-ray Disc Player
Denon AVR2112CI Integrated Network A/V Surround Receiver
Pioneer SP-BS41-LR Bookshelf Speaker (2)
Pioneer SP-C21 Center Speaker
Pioneer SW-8 Subwoofer

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