Taken is simultaneously adrenaline-pumping fun and...completely reprehensible garbage. I guess that's why they call them "B-movies"...A-movies have to choose between the fun and the trash.
Alas, B-movies don't have to discriminate, and this film certainly doesn't. It is coarse and gruff and violent without any clear sense of morality...and in that way, it is kinda fun to watch. If you can let your brain take a nap, you will probably have a great time.
For me, it was tough. I rarely like to turn my brain off, especially during movies. As a result, I shook my head many times at the baseless, unapologetic glee with which director Pierre Morel and writers Luc Besson and Robert Mark Kamen depict this very dark revenge picture as a rock 'em, sock 'em, damn-near-rollicking action flick. I mean, for godssakes, this is a film about the enslavement of young girls in an underground sex trafficking ring. How much fun can one squeeze out of that subject matter?
The answer, for me, is precisely none, but what works in Taken is, shockingly, the revenge story line. Morally-bankrupt revenge sagas usually anger me to no end, but there is something very intriguing about Morel's direction, and something very charismatic about Liam Neeson's performance. Up to this point, Morel is best known for directing the truly fun, wonderfully hyperkinetic action film, District B-13, in his native France, and he brings that visceral spirit to the work here, even if his very particular, almost psychedelic talent is a very awkward fit for this grim material. As for Neeson, I love these roles where he allows his physicality to become a natural, unspoken force. It is easy to overlook Neeson's size in his typically gentle, conventionally heroic roles, but the man is huge--tall, lean, and agile. And in this film, he kicks a lot of ass. It's quite fun to watch.
The story itself ranges from corny to outright lame, but when it is in its central ass-kicking zone, Taken is entertaining as a cold-blooded action blowout. So how does one judge such a simultaneously shamefully lightweight and shamelessly entertaining enterprise? With an analysis that jarringly blends two separate judgments, which befits the film's desire to jarringly blend slick exploitation with important subject matter.
So...call it a D+ for sheer stupidity, and a B+ for Liam Neeson kicking ass. All told, it equals a C+.