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Taken to the Cleaners: Subpar revenge flick will have you begging for mercy 

It says it's from Justin Timberlake. Taken completely lives up to its title. You will feel taken for every penny you spent and every second

It says it's from Justin Timberlake. Taken completely lives up to its title. You will feel taken for every penny you spent and every second you wasted sitting through this movie. It definitely will make my top ten worst movie list for 2009. Taken will stretch your patience like a balloon to the popping point. Not to mention the paranoid message it sends to anyone considering a vacation in Europe.

Bryan Mills (Liam Neeson) is a retired moody guy with a secret past. It's never clear as to where he retired from. Mercenaries? CIA Black Ops? Secret agent school? He refers to himself as "a preventer," so you be the judge. He wants to become closer to his daughter Kim (Maggie Grace), and then overprotects her, much to the dismay of his ex-wife (Famke Janssen) and her new husband (Xander Berkeley). The first 20 minutes setup of sad divorce woes and cute eye glances between Mills and Kim were way too cute and excruciatingly long. The 50-minute wedding scene in Deer Hunter suddenly didn't seem so bad. A subplot has Mills moonlighting as a bodyguard to Kim's favorite chick rock star, an attempt to bring them all together. But then Kim goes and gets kidnapped on a European trip and Mills has to go all Rambo using his special "skills" to save her from a white slave trade syndicate (of course). So with spy-gizmos, big fists and guns a blazin', Mills heads off to Paris.

Despite the previews, Taken is no Bourne Identity or Ransom. The plot inconsistencies and contradictions will make your head spin. It lifts ideas from Hostel and '80s exploitation movies, with guys in tuxedoes smoking expensive cigars, swilling champagne and bidding on "harem" girls in glass booths. It could've been a good laugh if it wasn't played so heavy handed and serious.

There's a small body count and an unbelievable absence of bloodshed. Neeson killed way more people in Michael Collins and Darkman. Most of the characters are short-lived; they either get killed or pummeled to unconsciousness after uttering only a few forgettable lines. A nameless head honcho businessman commands, "Kill him quietly, I have guests." Then whispers after tasting hot lead, "It was only business." There's also an evil sheik who, while luxuriating on his fluffy bed, beckons his recently purchased hot-virgin-sex-slaves with a "come hither" hand gesture. This is really dumb stuff.

Director Pierre Morel drops the ball countless times. Trying to hide behind exotic locales, the only thing that felt international were the accents. To pump up the adrenalin, the soundtrack relies heavily on swirling minor-key Euro-strings. The action driving sequences involved a fast-paced spinning and shaky camera to feign dizzying car movement, but someone seemed to have fallen asleep at the editing table. I've seen better car chases on The Dukes of Hazard.

Co-writer Luc Besson is responsible for some decent Euro-Americanized flicks (5th Element, The Professional, Transporter) but this one is tossed together with no purpose. I counted six very competent actors and zero decent lines of dialogue. My favorite part was when the actors playing Mills' buddies (Leland Orser, David Warshofsky, Jon Gries) show up for a night of red meat and beer. Not only did they bring a little life to the proceedings, it solved the mystery as to where these three actors have been lately.

Neeson does his darndest, doting over his daughter, playing a hangdog sheepish worry wart, and then running around acting all fierce as a no-BS killer. But it seems he should've fought the director, writer and producer as well. No matter how many guys he pummels into submission he loses to this poor production.


Starring: Liam Neeson, Famke Janssen, Jon Gries, Xander Berkeley, Maggie Grace. Directed by Pierre Morel

Rated PG-13.

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