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Fathers and Daughters:
In Their Own Words
by Mariana Cook
(Discounted Paperback from Amazon)
. "Taken"

I never said I was against fantasy. Sometimes it's all you've got to pump up formulaic film fare with any hope of a commercial return. One prevalent place for it is in the action genre, where the hero or heroine face a ring of tough armed men and leave as the only person standing at the end. I actually enjoyed the Steven Seagal movies in which, through clever staging, editing and choreographic cheats, they had you convinced that the overweight, muscle-bound fighter for justice was actually some super-swift dynamo of the martial arts. Hey, it made for good escapist entertainment. It certainly encouraged others.

Precisely in that style--so close as to be an homage--comes "Taken," the emergence of Liam Neeson ("Kinsey," "Michael Collins") as an action star, not just a commanding presence or a physical threat. Here, he gets his fists bloodied. And, if you don't think he's Jackie Chan's equal, well, the directing and editing boys just haven't done their job well enough. Shades of Seagal!

That's not the problem. The failure here is in the writing. Just calling this drek formulaic doesn't cover it. The script by Luc Besson and Robert Mark Kamen, while on autopilot, should also be credited to the computer software template that originated it. The result of this organic-digital collaboration is the most predictable movie of the year and, possibly, of several years before it.

Bryan (Neeson) is some kind of retired spy trained by CIA or Special Forces to deal with difficult situations. He's the kind of guy, the filmmakers (like director Pierre Morel) will tell you, who would be very dangerous to arouse. After years as an operative in the field and a divorce by Lenore (Famke Jannsen), his wife, an epiphany told him he was going to lose the affections of his 17-year old daughter Kim (Maggie Grace) if he didn't give up the military and settle down somewhere nearby so he could play a role in her life. Her desire to be a singer becomes his to help her do it.

On a one-night security gig protecting a rock star during a concert, he meets and impresses the diva (Holly Valance) when the first of several huge coincidents occurs. He takes down a man who attacks her backstage (like it happens all the time). Grateful beyond redemption, the singer becomes a genie offering Mr. Security Man one wish. When he asks for a tip on singing to pass onto his daughter, she generously offers Kim a voice test which, if passed, could lead to bigger things.

Bryan scoots over to Lenore's palatial digs, which she enjoys with her new, rich husband Sam (Leland Orser), to tell Kim the good news--only to be shocked into silence by Kim's announcement that she plans to travel to Paris for a museum adventure. Lenore backs it and cajoles Bryan, whom she mostly disses like an errant child, to put his parental signature on a Travel For Minors form. Finding the adventure highly dangerous and ill-advised, he balks, but finally relents with conditions. He doesn't, at this time, even mention the singer's offer to see if it might mean more to Kim than her travel plans do.

Here is where the tree of unlikelihood springs branches. When he sees his beloved daughter off without mentioning an option that could be a wish come true, we know precisely how the picture will end. Let's just say, it'll be on a high note. We also know what's coming and the investigative tracking pattern of the piece. Kim's (and her best friend's) capture at Orly Airport is a given. Didn't dad foresee it and tell us it will happen? What're the odds of a trained spy's daughter falling into the unmerciful hands of a degenerate sex trade operation?

The creative genius behind such pulp fiction who should receive the most condemnation for it is Luc Besson, French multi-hyphenate responsible for some rather major material, like "The Fifth Element" of 1997 and "La Femme Nikita," 1990. This is an award-winning guy who must know crass commercialization when he sees it coming out of his printer. How could he have turned this in, let alone take credit for it? Oh, yes, the percentage deal and the paycheck.

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But, if you had told me all that before I went to see it, I still would have gone. I was just that curious about Mr. Neeson in such a role. I can't say he pulled a film rescue here (other than the fictional one) but this always interesting actor provided an element of fun as he wrestled with the emotional aspects and took over on the physical. Not an internal actor and virtually never showing much in the way of personal emotional depth, he has been wisely cast mostly for his natural ability to dominate the screen and to express angers brought on by larger historical and classic themes. Here, we actually see him in a close-up moment or two, silently striving to bring to the surface his feelings of fear and resolve about the devastatingly hopeless predicament of the person he loves most on the planet.

I'm not going to say whether he's good or bad. I appreciated the effort he makes to humanize a shallow draft of a character even if it's not a breakthrough. Given that he's willing to go for it, a breakthrough may not be far off. How it comes off here... for you... you decide.

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                                      ~~  Jules Brenner  


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Site rating: 4

POPCORN!! This was not a deep movie - despite its subject matter - but it was an emotional - I have a daughter - joyride.

                                                           ~~ Alfred G. 



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