You have to give credit to the new film “Taken:” It may be a lot of things - but at least it’s not boring.
This wildly absurd thriller co-written by Luc Besson (the man behind “The Professional,” “La Femme Nikita” and “The Fifth Element”) takes an intriguing premise and turns it into a 90-minute bloodbath that manages somehow to tone down the material just enough to make it PG-13.
“Taken” stars Liam Neeson as Bryan, a former secret agent who has recently retired so he can reconnect with his teenage daughter, Kim (Maggie Grace).
When Kim wants to take a trip to Europe for the summer with a friend, Bryan is reluctant at first, but eventually agrees. Bryan’s worst fears are quickly realized when Kim and her friend are abducted in Paris by a group of Albanian mobsters running a slave trade.
As a result, Bryan heads to Europe and proceeds to unleash his wrath on everyone in his path - determined to find his daughter and bring her back home.
Neeson probably wouldn’t be my first, or even 100th, choice as an action hero, but he does an OK job here, bringing a much needed intensity to his role.
Unfortunately, he is stuck in a film that peaks after a great abduction sequence and subsequent phone conversation between Bryan and Kim’s abductors.
This one scene, which the studio has given away in all the movie’s trailers, is as tense and thrilling as anything in “The Bourne Identity” and its sequels.
But after this scene, “Taken” dissolves nearly into a parody of those “Bourne” films, with Neeson easily ousting every bad guy he comes in contact with.
Perhaps if the film had gone all the way, not toning down the violence and sleaziness that surrounds Kim’s abduction, this could have worked. Instead, the audience is stuck with a film that is way nicer than it should be.
Sure it makes the subject matter easier to take, but in the long run it really limits the film’s overall effectiveness, making it nothing more than a borderline guilty pleasure.
DVD dandy of the week
This week’s dandy is “Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa” (B), a delightful animated film full of fun characters and lively humor.
The sequel to the 2005 hit “Madagascar” picks up with Alex the lion (Ben Stiller), Marty the zebra (Chris Rock), Melman the giraffe (David Schwimmer) and Gloria the hippo (Jada Pinkett Smith) about to leave Madagascar to return to their lives in the Central Park Zoo.
But the trip home takes a detour, with the animals suddenly stranded in a wildlife preserve in the middle of Africa, where they encounter species of their own kind for the first time, including the discovery of some long-lost relatives.
The four leads are all very good in their respective roles, especially Stiller and Rock, but it is the supporting characters that really make “Madagascar” a cut above most family fare.
Sacha Baron Cohen of “Borat” fame is very good as a delusional lemur king, while the late Bernie Mac as Alex’s father and Alec Baldwin as a rival lion bring a certain charm to their roles.
But the stars of the “Madagascar” franchise continue to be the penguins (voiced by Chris Miller, Christopher Knight and Conrad Vernon), who provide most of the humor for the adults in attendance. With so many other characters in the film, their screen time is kept to a minimum, but I’m convinced they deserve a spin-off at some point in the near future. (They do get a special second disk short in the DVD release, so that’s a start.)
When the penguins are on the screen, “Madagascar” soars into the same heights as the first two “Shrek” films, but even when they aren’t center stage, this is still a movie that fans of all ages should appreciate.
“Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa” is rated PG for some mild crude humor and will be available Friday on DVD.
— Movie reviewer/sports writer Micheal Compton can be reached by calling 783-3247 or via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.