For the past several years, there has been a tug-of-war in the world of action films. Some, like the Jason Bourne and recent James Bond movies, have sought to establish moodier, more introspective heroes who face realistic dilemmas in the midst of the usual shooting and car chases. Others, like Shoot 'em Up, Crank, and The Transporter, have gone the other way, decreasing characterization to almost nothing and focusing entirely on over-the-top action. Both philosophies are viable; the only problem is when a film tries to have it both ways, like Quantum of Solace and Transporter 3 did.
It's very pleasing, then, that after playing nearly everywhere else in the world, the French-produced (but English-language) Taken has finally come to American shores, where it is welcome as a delightfully dizzying balm to soothe the pain inflicted by recent action films that have failed to deliver. It subscribes to the less-talk-more-rock school of thought, intentionally free of nuance but overbrimming with relentless, efficient, energetic mayhem. It plays out like a season of 24, crammed into 90 minutes.
Our Jack Bauer is named Bryan Mills, played by Liam Neeson -- and yes, they found a way to make Oskar Schindler into an action hero. Mills used to be a CIA operative, but he quit and moved to Los Angeles to be closer to his teenage daughter, Kim (Maggie Grace), who lives there with her mother (Famke Janssen) and filthy-rich stepfather (Xander Berkeley). Mills regrets letting his work ruin his family life, and he wants to make up for lost time.