Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence, disturbing thematic material, sexual content, some drug references and language. 91 minutes. Two and a half stars out of four.
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.
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.
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.
NEW IN TOWN
Rated PG for language and some suggestive material. 96 min. Zero stars out of four.
Good people of Minnesota: Stand up! Fight back! Take back your state and your culture and your accent! Because if you don’t, movies like “New in Town” will continue to blow through and tear things up at your expense, allegedly in the name of comedy.
This soggy fish-out-of-water slog, starring Renee Zellweger as a Miami executive forced to move to tiny New Ulm, Minn., is chock full of stereotypically folksy folks, people whose conversations are peppered with plenty of “Oh, yas” and “You betchas.”
All the women like scrapbooking and all the men like ice fishing.
All of them.
Even if it had tried to capitalize on the popularity of “Fargo” and come out as a parody more than a decade ago, it still wouldn’t have been remotely funny. The generic title alone should indicate how utterly bereft of creativity “New in Town” truly is.
Lucy, who’s climbing the ladder at a snack food corporation, is assigned to one of its factories in the frigid north with the ultimate task of shutting it down. Before she takes a single step in the ice in one of her myriad pairs of stiletto heels, you know how this is going to turn out.
And you know the second she clashes with blue-collar union rep Ted (Harry Connick Jr.) that the two will eventually fall for each other.
Of course the story is familiar and formulaic — it’s the flat, hokey, one-note way Danish director Jonas Elmer gets us there that’s so depressing.