01/30/2009 10:00 AM |

This story of a retired super-agent father rescuing his bratty daughter from international slave traders may have been intended as earnest entertainment. In that case it fails miserably. The involvement of French action auteur Luc Besson as co-writer, though, makes one wonder whether Taken was in fact intended to be an outrageous satire of Neocon ideology run amuck all over Paris. If that’s the case, it is terrifically successful. The action is typically Bessonian, replete with multiple screeching car chases and several jumps from bridges. Could Taken be the French Hollywood-crossover kid’s joke on George W. Bush’s America?

The joke is played out by Liam Neeson — collectively remembered either as a wise Jedi martyr or a Jew-saving factory owner — playing divorced dad Bryan. He’s recently quit his job and moved his sad life to Los Angeles to be closer to his seventeen-year-old daughter Kim (Maggie Grace). As the film begins Kim has already been taken, scooped up into his ex-wife’s (Famke Janssen) glitzy new life with her super-wealthy, horse-buying husband and the attendant L.A. mirror-world of blinding upper-class narcissism.

Bryan is lonely, overbearing, obsessive and about as annoying as the daughter he spends the whole movie infantilizing. He reluctantly lets her travel to Europe with her less prudent friend Amanda (Katie Cassidy), but as soon as the girls land in Paris they are marked for abduction and enslavement by an Albanian crime network. Everyone outside the U.S., Bryan had warned, is a drug-pushing, prostitute-selling terrorist. The job he just quit must have been with the Department of Homeland Security.

Taken proceeds to place Bryan in a series of set pieces wherein he articulates every misguided policy practiced by the Bush administration. He gives a roomful of Albanian criminals a speech about how lazy immigrants are, and later destroys a mine staffed entirely by Albanian immigrants. Bryan beats and tortures another Albanian to learn Kim’s whereabouts and then, with the information he wanted, leaves the man to fry. Bryan’s Albanian-killing spree in Taken might statistically qualify as genocide.

The French get it too, though — payback for not going to Iraq, surely. An old colleague with the French secret service (Oliver Rabourdin) stops helping the crazy American daddy find his little girl, so Bryan shoots the man’s wife. Either you’re with Liam Neeson or you’re against him. As the action accelerates, (Albanian) bodies pile up and satire sharpens, Taken‘s protagonist finally becomes its villain when Bryan buys his drugged-up daughter’s virginity in a sex slave auction. Geopolitical ignorance, international relations disasters and deadly unilateral action undertaken in order to retain an illusory sense of purity can be very entertaining, it turns out, when fictional.