A great deal of the allure in "Taken" comes from the wild juxtaposition of its premise: the idea of Liam Neeson -- esteemed, acclaimed, 56-year-old Liam Neeson -- kicking all kinds of butt in a Euro B-revenge thriller.
Yes, Pierre Morel's film moves with breathlessly incessant fluidity and speed; that's a given from the director of the French action flick "District B13," working from a script co-written by Luc Besson, for whom this sort of trashy adventure is his baguette and butter. But cast someone you've never heard of in the lead role -- someone who didn't receive an Oscar nomination for playing Oskar Schindler, for example -- and it might not have worked nearly so well.
Neeson seems to be having a blast, too, unleashing chaos as former CIA operative Bryan Mills. Bryan's been trying to live a quiet life in Los Angeles, where he's moved to be closer to his 17-year-old daughter, Kim (Maggie Grace), whom he neglected for years while he was out tracking baddies around the globe. (Grace, the former "Lost" star, seems lost herself at 25 playing a teenager; she does it with the weirdly innocent goofiness of a girl half that age.)
Kim and her mom, Bryan's ex-wife Lenore (Famke Janssen), talk Bryan into allowing her to travel to Paris with a girlfriend. He's reluctant -- he knows what dangers lurk in those seemingly glamorous streets! -- but he eventually gives in, only to discover that she and her pal are actually planning to travel all over Europe following the U2 tour. (Somehow, that doesn't seem like the kind of band a couple of high school girls would go ga-ga about chasing, but whatever.)
But when Kim and her girlfriend get kidnapped, Bryan must dash over there to prevent a group of Albanian goons from selling her into sex slavery. It's all sordid and unseemly but if you can get past that, "Taken" is also unexpectedly fun in a guilty-pleasure sort of way. Bryan is inordinately violent for a guy his age -- he can take down anyone, anywhere, regardless of their weaponry -- but he's also got a MacGyver-like resourcefulness.
For example, because he happened to be on the phone with Kim when she was abducted, he's able to piece together not only where she was but the ethnicity of the people who took her. His use of a walkie-talkie and a cell phone in an elaborate rooftop bait-and-switch is also amusing. But mainly he has sheer brute force on his side -- along with some cheesy, menacing dialogue.
"Jean-Claude, I will tear down the Eiffel Tower if I have to!" he growls to a former colleague. (Robert Mark Kamen, who collaborated with Besson on the "Transporter" movies, co-wrote the script here, as well. He's also responsible for the indelible words, "Wax on, wax off," having written the first three "Karate Kid" movies.)
It's a whole lot of nonsense and bluster that will, of course, end well -- but not before a Saudi sheik's yacht is shot to bits and an untold number of bloodied bodies lay strewn all over the City of Lights. Mindless? Sure. But at least it's mindlessly entertaining -- and, blissfully, brief.