Director: Pierre Morel Runtime: 93 minutes Links: IMDB By Adam Tobias Who knew Liam Neeson, the same highly regarded actor who’s made a living starring in such sophisticated and acclaimed films as “Schindler’s List,” “Nell,” “Rob Roy” and “Kinsey,” could be so convincing as a kick-butt-and-take-names-later action hero? We all know that Neeson can act, and act extremely well, but I can’t fault anyone for thinking he might be a little out of place in director Pierre Morel’s “Taken,” a fast and furious offspring of the “Bourne” franchise and the television show “24.” but I can’t fault anyone for thinking he might be a little out of place It’s easy to doubt Neeson’s ability to pull off such a role because he’s never really done it before (Sorry, but I don’t count “Star Wars: Episode I — The Phantom Menace”), and let’s be honest here, how many 56-year-old actors can effectively play a tough-as-nails vigilante who can easily take down loads of evil thugs half his age? It is often said you never get a second chance to make a first impression, and fortunately Neeson has made the most of his initial offering to the action genre. In fact, a large part of the appeal of “Taken” comes from Neeson and the credibility he brings to a film that oftentimes deals with preposterous and unrealistic situations. That’s not to take anything away from today’s top action stars — Jason Statham, Vin Diesel or Mark Wahlberg, to name a few — but it is very rare that action junkies like myself get to experience watching an actor with the same demanding screen presence and swagger as Neeson. The gravitas and complexity that is provided by Neeson actually ends up adding an extra layer of depth to “Taken,” and his memorable performance will make you wish he would’ve considered dabbling with the action genre a whole lot sooner in his career. With that said, it should come as no surprise that he seems right at home playing Bryan Mills, a newly retired CIA operative who left his job and moved to Los Angeles so he could be closer to his 17-year-old daughter Kim (Maggie Grace, formerly of the television series “Lost”), much to the chagrin of his ex-wife Lenore (Famke Janssen) and her new, filthy rich husband (Xander Berkeley). Kim may be happy that Bryan wants to be a part of her life, but the thing she wants more than anything is for him to sign a permission slip that will allow her to spend the summer in Paris with her girlfriend. As an overprotective father who has seen the worst the world has to offer, Bryan is reluctant to potentially put his daughter in harm’s way, but, after all, he wants to stay on her good side so he eventually caves in to her request. However, daddy apparently knows best because soon after Kim and her friend arrive in the City of Lights, they are abducted by a mysterious bunch of Albanians who are so merciless even the Russians give them a wide berth. But if you think the kidnappers are going to get away with their prized possessions scot-free, you are sorely mistaken. Just before Kim is whisked away against her will, she is able to use her cell phone to provide Bryan with some information about her captors, which proves to be a father’s worst nightmare. With some help from his former CIA colleagues, Bryan puts the pieces together and learns his daughter’s abductors are a nasty group that kidnaps teenagers, drugs them and sells them off as sex slaves. And to make matters worse, Bryan has a 96-hour window to find Kim or he will likely never see her again. So it’s off to Paris for Bryan, and with the particular set of skills he’s acquired over a very long career in the shadows, he vows to recover his loving daughter, even if it means tearing down the Eiffel Tower. “Taken” might move a little slowly in the first 20 minutes or so for some, but once Bryan lands in the foreign country to find his daughter, Morel rarely lets up on the exhilarating, frantic action. You are never going to believe everything you see in a movie like “Taken,” but Morel paces the action with such rhythm that you’ll hardly have time to think about anything else other than cars, bullets and fists flying across the screen. But as amusing as “Taken” is, the script from Luc Besson (“The Professional,” “The Fifth Element” and “The Transporter”) and Robert Mark Kamen (“The Karate Kid” and “Lethal Weapon 3”) is not something you would call cutting-edge. Some of the action scenes do get a little repetitious and those of you who crave violence might be a little disappointed because most of the bloodshed occurs just off-screen. (I hear there will probably be an unrated version of the film released on DVD, so some of you will have to wait a couple month for the experience you were hoping for.) And although Neeson gives it his all as a one-man wrecking crew, the performances from the rest of the cast are rather lackluster. Janssen doesn’t have much to do here and Grace, who was phenomenal at playing a spoiled brat in “Lost,” is entirely unconvincing as a teenager. As you can see, “Taken” does have a few glaring weaknesses, but there wasn’t a minute that went by when I wasn’t entertained or glued to my seat. And when I go see a mindless action film, that’s the thing I care about most. Rating: 7 out of 10