Liam Neeson shines in ‘Taken’
Special to the Sun
Liam Neeson brings his angular, 6′ 4″ physicality to the role of retired CIA operative Bryan Mills. In command of his undercover skills, Mills flounders as the divorced father of naive 17-year-old Kim (Maggie Grace). Lenore (Famke Janssen), Kim’s mother now remarried to a wealthy Los Angeles businessman, is both bitter toward and feels superior to her once workaholic ex. Exercising her power over Mills through their shared offspring, Lenore insists Kim not miss out on doing Europe, little-rich-girl-style, simply because Bryan disapproves.
To retain Kim’s affection, Mills is compelled to sign papers that give his daughter permission to spend the summer overseas. He tries to warn her, “You have no idea what the world is like.” His words become prophetic when Kim and her girlfriend are kidnapped by Albanian white slave traders a mere hour after landing at Charles De Gaulle airport.
Mills, a character that could easily crumble in less competent hands, benefits from the intelligence emanating out of Neeson’s blue peepers — at once fiery and soft. Mills’s CIA experience and his connections, make us believe he can find his daughter prior to a 4-day deadline after which, the kidnapping group’s history shows she will disappear forever.
Neeson, whose roles are rarely the physical type, possesses the ability to explode from stillness in the blink of an eye. He pursues, tortures, and kills his quarry with such bloodless efficiency we have no opportunity to ponder the necessity for the mayhem. Co-written by Luc Besson, a frequent auteur of fun and cheap thrills, Mills is the sort of freelance operative fiction loves above all others. He instantly discerns the difference between the weak and vulnerable, mere puppets in the system, and their wicked puppeteers. Best of all, Mills knows precisely how to deal with each of the players.
While the domestic drama is blighted by oversimplification, Mills is a treasure. He’s molded by Neeson for quick-changes from daddy-lost to smooth operator to killing machine when called for. The 57-year-old actor may show physical signs of wear, but his talent is anything but worn.
At my screening, Mills’s neatly executed cons and punishing retributions earned applause on several occasions indicating that Besson would be remiss if he didn’t write another story featuring this timeless, sympathetic character. As for Neeson, generally cast in supporting roles rather than as the star of a mainstream blockbuster, he’s deserves to take many bows for “Taken.”
Escape 2 Africa, DVD, Blu-Ray (2008)
Director: Eric Darnell Tom McGrath
Voices of: Ben Stiller, Chris Rock, David Schwimmer, Jada Pinkett Smith, Sacha Baron Cohen, Cedric the Entertainer Andy Richter, Bernie Mac, Sherri Shepherd, Alec Baldwin, Tom McGrath, Conrad Vernon
Length: 89 minutes
Chapter one left pampered zoo animals, Alex the lion (Ben Stiller), Marty the zebra (Chris Rock), Gloria the hippo (Jada Pinkett Smith) and Melman the giraffe (David Schwimmer), stranded in Madagascar, but when we meet them once again, they are preparing for a return trip to Central Park Zoo. A trio of unruly penguins (Tom McGrath, Chris Miller and Christopher Knights) have reconstructed the foursome’s demolished plane, and serve as its wisecracking captain and crew when the fully loaded craft goes into a death spiral above the African savanna.
A safe landing follows hilarious, death-defying excitement, but the story begins in earnest on the ground where each character confront life-changing issues. Gloria is courted by a playboy hippo while lovelorn Melman’s heart breaks. Marty is alarmed by his new zebra herd ” all exact duplicates of himself. Alex is reunited with his lion-king-daddy (Bernie Mac), but an ambitious rival (Alec Baldwin) makes Alex appear to be a dunderhead.
Badly needing to get back to the zoo, their escape is hindered by angry, human New York tourists and by a group of union-organizing chimpanzees whose smarts are required to rebuild the plane. Sasha Baron Cohen appears as an immigrant lemur king demonstrating godly connections as justification to become the savanna’s supreme ruler.
Saucy dialog and high-end computer animation convey subtle facial expressions and excellently rendered action while sophisticated humor avoids talking-down to the little ones. They’ll be amused despite the many punchlines written for the adult
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