The Night Out: Taken (2008), or The Reward of Mediocrity

9 03 2009
What did you do for the government, Daddy? I was a preventer. I prevented genuine drama from happening in my movies.

"What did you do for the government, Daddy?" "I was a 'preventer'. I prevented genuine drama from happening in my movies."

Have you ever been that person? You know the one I’m talking about. The one that will stick up for the mediocre movie despite everyone’s, including you own, misgivings about the film? I do that constantly. I’m always trying to look on the bright side of things, even if there is no bright side to be gleamed. Sometimes a movie is just mediocre, but you don’t want to say that. It happens for a number of reasons, I think. At times, when you’re out with friends and you see a so-so film in the theaters, you might say that it was good just as a gesture to your friends, as if you were making a remark about your friendship or the outing itself. Sometimes you just want to pull for an underdog in life, and even if you know deep inside a movie is just not as good as you say it is, you want it to be so you keep saying it is more than what it is. And sometimes you haven’t really formed your opinion yet on a film after you’ve just seen it, but your default reaction when somebody asks you was that “it was good” or “it was okay”, so you say it before you really mean it. I think perhaps I did this as I left the theater when I saw this film. I don’t know my motives, but as I left the theater, talking to my friend about this picture, I spouted out placating, soothing words for the movie, sticking up for it in a way. Looking back on it, though, I really don’t think this one deserved my niceties.

Bryan Mills is your average American father; a retired special-0ps agent, whose specialization is international incident-preventing, who quit the jet-set life to live close to his 17 year old daughter who stays with his ex-wife and her new hubby. Don’t we all have THAT dad? Anyway, Bryan is a great father. With what little money he has since he left the life of a “preventer” (his word, not mine), he buys his daughter birthday presents. When he hangs out with his old CIA friends, all they talk about is how considerate he always was as a father, despite the temporal and physical restraints placed on someone in a CIA-type situation. When he’s alone or on the job, all he thinks about is his daughter. Bryan is such a great father. But when his daughter wants permission to go to France to do some “museum tours” with a friend (This turns out to be a big fat lie. Who would lie to such a GREAT father?), Bryan is dubious. He wants to keep his daughter safe, and what we can clearly see from this equation is that 1000 miles away < safe. He has seen a lot of freaky European stuff go down, and he doesn’t think a 17 year-old can handle it out there. But the ex-wife and the daughter tag team on a guilt trip that would put even the GREATEST father to shame. Bryan relents, and before you can say sacre bleu, his daughter is in gay Paris. Unfortunately, despite all the safety tips her before she left, within an hour (!!) she and her friend are kidnapped and sold off as human slaves while her great father is on the phone with her. Bryan bursts into a super-father rage and gets on the first plane he can to France. There, he uses all the skills he acquired during a life of preventering things to track down his daughter. He will go to any lengths and kill anyone in his way to get her back, and he will prove once and for all that he lives up to the “World’s Greatest Dad” coffee mug he bought for himself the year before.

Okay, so did I mention that he was a great dad? This movie seems hell-bent on assuring us of that. This is an old ploy of action movies that I have often enjoyed. It is what I like to call “The Excuse”. Basically, it is a way to get more asses in the theater. You see, a lot of people, including yours truly, are too high and mighty to go to see a straight-up action film in theaters. They think those types of movies are beneath them. So what you do is you give your action movie main character a noble reason to fight against his foes in the most violent way possible (i.e. kidnapped daughter) and figure that prominently in the previews and advertisement. It’s such an old ploy, I can’t believe it worked on me, but even I was not aware of just how much action would be in this movie. I figured it would be your typical thriller/detective movie, a la Ransom. What I did not figure on was the massive amounts of violence and chase scenes. They could have shaved Liam Neeson’s head and called it The Transporter 4: Grandpappy’s Joy Ride and I would have believed it. Seriously, if you are not in the mood for action, do not go see this.

This movie, directed by the sleeker-than-grease Pierre Morel, is part of the new wave of post-Bourne action movies. It is a revolution I do not relish too much. There is no new substance to the action movie, just more locations and a different color pallet. It’s like they found a way to combine Dirty Harry and James Bond, and they really run with it. Instead of Rambo turning people into blood jelly in the rain forest, they have Matt Damon plugging baddies in a crowd on the streets of Luxembourg. That is all this movie, which is in the exact same vein as The Bourne Identity and all of Jason Statham’s European flicks, aspires to be, and that is all it becomes. No more, no less. it is less about entertainment than style. Style well placed and well produced, but it is an empty thing, one that leaves you with nothing more than you walked in with. Liam Neeson, who portrays Ultra-Dad Bryan Mills, plays the part with finesse and cunning, as well as a smoldering rage I have not seen in him in years. Well done, but like the direction by Luc Besson’s intellectual clone Pierre Morel, it translates to little else but a Parisian game of Three-card Monte, and while it’s fun to watch the cards trade hands faster than the eye can catch them, you know that there is no red Queen to be found at the end.

So I can in no good conscience either condemn or condone this movie. If you loved The Bourne Identity, you’ll think this movie is so-so. If you loved Ransom, you’ll think this movie was so-so. Damn it, if you loved Hell Comes To Frogtown, you’ll think this movie is so-so, and I did, so I do. Taken gets 5 “preventers” out of 10.

See you tomorrow, where we check out Love Is Colder Than Death!