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Taken doesn’t have a plot so much as it does a premise.Liam Neeson plays a retired spy trying to patch up a shaky history with his daughter.When she flies off to Paris, which for some reason needs his approval even though he’s in no way her legal guardian, he receives a call that she and her friend have been kidnapped.Neeson gets on the next plane and spends the next two thirds of the movie in one long pursuit to find his daughter before she’s forced into prostitution.There are certainly a few nuances in the characters and their relationship, almost all of which occur in the film’s first act, but like everything else Luc Besson has had a hand in, Taken is about the action, not the writing.

Release Date: Jan. 30

Director: Pierre Morel

Writer: Luc Besson and Robert Mark Kamen

Cinematographer: Michel Abramowicz

Starring: Liam Neeson, Famke Janssen, Maggie Grace, Xander Berkeley, Holly Valance

Studio/Run Time: Twentieth Century-Fox, 93 mins.

That’s not necessarily a bad thing either, since this is clearly Pierre Morel’s strength as a director.Fights are fluid and realistic, with Neeson more than up to the task in his role as the vengeful American father.But they’re not original, and action sequences look and feel just like the Bourne movies.The kinetic camera and furious editing are something that’s been done better before and their impact is waning.Taken’s few twists are telegraphed miles ahead, turning the film into a series of set-pieces that are satisfying enough, but rarely thrilling.

What keeps the film from being just another average action flick is its reliance on fear-based manipulation.Taken feeds on a fear of foreigners and features an America-knows-best attitude that would have felt dated 20 years ago. Its emotional core is centered on inverting an aging male’s fear of uselessness into a machismo fantasy of saving a wrecked parental relationship through violence—all of which is easy to be sucked into but ultimately reprehensible.At the film’s worst, Neeson’s character acts as an analogue for America’s policies with terrorism abroad, at one point actually torturing a prisoner he’s interrogating to death.

These moments are never questioned and despite his merciless killings, Neeson plays the holier-than-thou protagonist from beginning to end.The fights are occasionally very cool, but it’s far easier to find another decent action movie to watch than it is to sit through one couched in such lazy, bigoted storytelling.