What a difference an actor makes. As it turns out, dropping Liam Neeson into a role and a film that both play out like ready-made slots for Steven Seagal can turn said film from a routine one-man-army rescue-actioner into something pretty interesting.
If you've got a guy friend (or maybe it's you, who knows) who got the short end of the stick in a divorce/custody situation - like, say, wifey and The Kid are off with a new, richer, "cooler" guy - THIS is their new favorite movie, period. "Taken" is for 'first-dad's' every bit the wish-fulfillment fantasy that "Gran Torino" was for angry old men. Neeson is a retired CIA hardass who's fed-up wife took their daughter and got hitched to an ultra-wealthy tycoon years ago. Dad 1.0 is too square for their world, and too "uptight" about things like her traveling abroad... until, that is, she's kidnapped by a sex-slave ring in Paris. THEN suddenly daddy's obsessiveness and still-working spymaster skills are the only thing that can save her. They can do other things, too: Earlier in the film, his quick-thinking takedown of a stalker while freelance-guarding a pop singer nets daughter-dearest the music-industry invite she's been wishing for since girlhood. Just like that. Oh, and it goes without saying he was right to be concerned about traveling abroad. They should've just listened to him all along. Doesn't that beat all?
So, it's not a subtle movie... but it's a smart one that plays by smart rules and delivers the action goods without becoming a cartoon-in-a-bad-way. It also holds truer to the concept of a vigilante hero than almost any film I've seen on the subject. There's no sudden-layer of moral righteousness - this guy is a CIA "prevention" expert for whom lying, spying and torture are the tools of the trade, and he has the grim, nigh-amoral determination that would come with such in REALITY. Not to give away what will surely be the film's most talked-about moment, but suffice it to say THIS guy crosses a line that Dirty Harry, "Death Wish's" Paul Kersey and even The Punisher wouldn't cross - and he does it just to PROVE he's willing to.
It's also worth mentioning (though you're gonna get REALLY sick of it's mention from certain corners of the web and political sphere in the coming weeks) that this has to be without a doubt the most politically-incorrect "serious" film to play in theaters in a long time. Not only is the hero an avenging patriarch who also happens to be an (unapologetic) CIA torturer, the baddies are Albian immigrant (to Paris) criminals - who sport matching tattoos of a variation on the Islamic holy insignia, no less! - and, later, the henchman of a virgin-enslaving wealthy Arab figure known only as "The Sheik." YIKES! It's played sans-hyperbole and seems less "mean-spirited" than it does "unconcerned with collateral offense," but there's a tangible current of frustration and vengeance-by-proxy on certain elements of the French criminal world by the French filmmakers. Either way, you don't see it very often.
Bottom line: Well above-average, worth your time.