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The City of Love, and Lost Children

Rating: 2 out of 5 stars.

If youíve seen the commercials for Taken, the preposterous new thriller from Luc Bessonís EuropaCorp production company, chances are good that youíre already familiar with the finer points of its story. Liam Neeson plays a former CIA agent whose daughter is kidnapped by a gang of sex traffickers, leaving him to wage a one-man war on those responsible.

What distinguishes this bit of vigilante escapism from the popular Death Wish formula -- besides Neeson himself, whose turn as a flesh-and-blood terminator is one-dimensional but modestly engaging -- is that itís set in Bessonís native Paris. Beyond that, Taken is a routine genre exercise that wisely banks on Neesonís charisma to smooth over some of the rougher passages in Besson and Robert Mark Kamenís unremarkable script.

Neeson has played this kind character before, as a freakishly disfigured avenger in Sam Raimiís Darkman and a hillbilly assassin in the underappreciated Next of Kin. Here, his performance is slightly less nuanced -- Bryan Mills, his erstwhile spook, has none of Darkmanís vulnerabilities, much less Briar Gatesí rough-hewn, born-on-the-bayou charm. But Neeson remains the filmís greatest asset, elevating an otherwise turgid late-night movie-of-the-week candidate into something more passably entertaining.

If that sounds like an endorsement, itís not. While Darkman and Next of Kin seemed to recognize and playfully exploit their absurdities for laughs, Taken is a mostly humorless affair that treats Bryanís quest for vengeance as very serious business indeed. Taken as a righteous stand against the low-level terrorists who peddle flesh in the back alleys of Europe, the movie is a lurid sham, as slick and soulless as the myriad thugs Bryan dispatches with implausible ease. Taken as a mindless adrenaline rush in the same vein as Besson and Kamenís Transporter series, itís more forgivable, but hardly worthwhile.