MOVIES: ‘Taken’

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“Taken” is the grown-up, more mature brother of the “The Transporter” series. Both were fathered by Luc Besson, but “Taken” is a fast-paced, high-octane action movie that, unlike its younger sibling, has the decency to take itself seriously.

Xander Berkeley), a billionaire hoping to replace Bryan in Kim’s heart.

Bryan is the kind of overbearing dad who wants you to call when you get to the theater, when the movie starts, when the movie ends and as you’re pulling off the highway on the way home, just to make sure nothing has gone wrong. Against his better judgment - and in the hopes of endearing himself to his daughter - he signs off on her going to France for the summer, driving her to the airport with advice about where in France is safe and always to look out for trouble.

This is what we call foreshadowing.

Once Kim gets to France, the fun begins. Kidnapped by a cartel of Albanian human traffickers, she’s destined for a life of prostitution and drug addiction unless her father can track her down in 96 hours, before she disappears for good. Here, Bryan switches into Jason Bourne mode - he’s an expert at hand-to-hand combat, weapons usage, interrogation techniques and everything else a superspy needs to know to get the job done.

Featuring some pretty graphic action sequences (as well as a harsh interrogation involving electricity, a metal chair and a bad guy with information to disgorge) “Taken” pushes the boundaries of its rating. How this movie sneaks in as a PG-13, while “Slumdog Millionaire” gets slapped with an R, I’ll never understand.

Mr. Neeson is fantastic as Bryan, perfectly bringing to life the sort of father every girl hates - at least until she winds up in a spot of trouble and needs someone with a backbone to pull her chestnuts out of the fire. The cadences in his line readings are engaging, as always; his dialogue comes off as almost lyrical.

To say nothing of the fight scenes; for a guy entering his late 50s, Mr. Neeson is pretty impressive in the action sequences. He carries himself with an unassuming confidence that you rarely see except from those who actually have been in a scrape or three.

The rest of the “Taken” cast is nondescript. There’s no central villain in the film; Bryan simply disposes of scummy bad guy after scummy bad guy for the film’s final 60 minutes. His Parisian counterpart, a former French intelligence officer who now works for the police, is the closest thing to a recurring character in the film’s last two acts, and even he barely registers.

Miss Grace is good as the bratty, insouciant little girl who wants to see the world and thinks she knows best, while Miss Janssen is woefully underused; she must be on-screen for less than 15 minutes.

Director Pierre Morel makes a fine English-language debut with this film; he has a keen sense of timing and understands the necessity of keeping an action-thriller like this one moving. Clocking in at slightly more than 1 1/2 hours, “Taken” doesn’t take very many detours into soul-searching melancholy. Indeed, the opening act, in which the audience gathers much of its information about Bryan and his broken family, drags just a little - and even those moments of tenderness contain a completely gratuitous, highly entertaining action set piece.

★★★

TITLE: “Taken”

RATING: PG-13 (Intense sequences of violence, disturbing thematic material, sexual content, some drug references and language)

CREDITS: Directed by Pierre Morel, written by Luc Besson and Robert Mark Kamen

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