The set-up for Taken is like a Snopes-tested urban legend à la razor blades in Halloween candy. This cautionary tale warns about the dangers of young women traveling alone in Europe. They are, apparently, subject to the imminent threat of being kidnapped, hooked on drugs, and prostituted in the ever-thriving sex trade.
That's what happens to Kim (Maggie Grace), a 17-year-old American on vacation to follow U2 around on their European tour. Kim gets snatched by a cute boy who hits on her outside the airport when she arrives in Paris, having targeted her as a prime candidate for exploitation. (Follow the logic: U2 is responsible for the European sex trade.)
What's different about Kim from the hundreds of other victims is who her daddy is. Papa is Bryan Mills (Liam Neeson), an ex-CIA (or similar government agency) spook who recently retired to be closer to his family. As a secret agent, Mills was a "preventer." Of what? "Bad things from happening," he says.
Mills is fussy and exact when he's overcompensating his attention for the time lost with his little girl, so you can imagine how he is when Kim is kidnapped. Mills puts his skills to use as he wreaks a path of destruction across Paris. He's an efficient death-dealer, using not so much spycraft as kickass-craft.
Taken's director, Pierre Morel, is the man behind District B13, a gonzo action movie from a few years ago that I can't remember anything about except that it was completely enjoyable. Taken was co-written by Luc Besson, writer/director of The Professional and La Femme Nikita, and Robert Mark Kamen, who, with Besson, has written all of the Transporter films.
Taken is in the vein of these and other contemporary European action films, with a kinetic slickness (and, in this case, it's high-energy but not deleteriously frantic). Taken is a little bit Asian in its occasional use of settings and props to define the action sequences and a little bit American in how little joy it takes in its thrills.
The film is, in essence, a sex-trade procedural, following the seamy underbelly of that underworld from product point of entry to end-user. Paris has never looked so unromantic. With his daughter's life in the balance, Mills is never having fun and never cracking jokes. I think I laughed once, and that was at a death scene that struck me as morbidly humorous.
Though Mills is given an artificial 96-hour window to find his daughter (with a resultant dramatic tension as the clock ticks), Taken is not to be confused with Crank, District B13, or Speed. Taken is a nervy thriller rather than an entertainment. You'll want to clutch your companion rather than the popcorn.