You want silly? The Luc Besson-scripted, Pierre Morel-directed Taken, a dumb-as-nuts attempt to update the white-slave melodrama for the 24 era, has silly in spades. Forgive me the indulgence, but this is one of those rare occasions where to describe the plot is to review the film. Liam Neeson plays Bryan Mills, a single dad with an armed forces background who's estranged from his teenage daughter Kim (Maggie Grace). One day, Liam takes a job working the security detail for a Britneyesque pop sensation played by Holly Valance (of course), and rescues her from a knife-wielding assailant (of course). This unintentionally comical warm-up, involving a little light muscle-flexing intended to introduce our hero as A Very Hard Man Indeed, actually has nothing to do with the plot proper, which involves Kim heading for Paris, something her controlling pa is very grumpy about, doubly so when he learns she's intending to follow U2 around on their European tour.
Needless to say, father's concern turns out to be wholly justified. The first person Kim speaks to en France is a hunky ne'er-do-well, who charms the pants off her travelling companion ("I hear French guys are amazing in bed," she coos - thanks for that, Luc) and leads a gang of people-smugglers to snatch them both away. One of Liam's ex-army mates listens to a pair of screams on Kim's last call home and somehow ascertains not just that the gang's leader is Albanian, but also which town said leader comes from, and that his first name is Marco. And so Liam turns up in Paris in a big black trenchcoat, baguette under his arm (no, really), ready to kick some immigrant ass. As the big man himself roars upon his arrival: "I'll tear down the Eiffel Tower if I have to!"
Morel, who previously directed the free-running movie District 13, has a certain gift for close-quarters, brutalist action - one shot of Neeson banging his head on a pavement caused me to wince more than I have at the movies for some while - but it's a gift more sensitive viewers might to return unopened, and he's clearly better with stuntmen than actors. Grace, from TV's Lost, overdoes the giggly, tearful hysteria in a manner that suggests some form of mental deficiency - perhaps a consequence of asking an actress in her late twenties to play seventeen - while Famke Janssen is once again wasted in the joyless role of nagging ex-wife.
Neeson, for his part, has to suffer through the indignity of extended negotiations with streetwalkers, blow away an evil sheikh holding a curved blade to the throat of his fair-skinned daughter (what year is this again - 2008, or 1908?), and - in one particular mise en abime - subject one of his victims to a bizarre rant on the downside of outsourcing torture to Third World nations. It's one thing to apply the electrodes to someone, quite another to blame them for not providing sufficient power to do the job properly. I spent half the running time smiling at Taken, tickled by the fact I didn't have to pay to see such nonsense; the remaining minutes were spent wondering whose intelligence - Neeson's, or mine own - Taken, being by some distance the stupidest film of the year, was insulting the most.
A sequel, Taken 2, opens this week.