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She said she was just going to the mall and would be back by 1o.

Taken is the first film I’ve rented using Redbox. There’s one around the corner at the Harris Teeter.

Redbox is the service that lets you pick a DVD from a kiosk and rent it the next day. And it lives up to its initial impression as a vending machine, where you’ll always find a Reese’s Cup but rarely a Zagnut. So, don’t expect to be taking home The Bicycle Thief for your evening’s entertainment. In fact, I think going forward the terms “Redbox” should be synonymous with mainstream, multiplex offerings, offering cheap thrills with a minimum of thought. (As in “I saw the new Redbox with Anne Hathaway.”)

On that score, Taken delivers. It’s actually a strange little action film, made in France a while back and starring, of all people, Liam Neeson, taking a break from his mopey, hang-dog dramatic personage to play a mopey, hang-dog former CIA agent.

In doing so, Neeson may have established a new subgenre: The Divorced Dad’s Action Fantasy Movie. In more traditional settings, these kinds of movies had their day as families split in the 1980s and 90s. Then, Dads would do crazy things to get their kids to like them again, such as dress up as a woman, or be reincarnated as a talking snowman.

That won’t work in these more ruthless, desperate times. In Taken, Neeson, in order to just spend some time with his teenage daughter, has to travel to Paris and rescue her from Albanian sex traffickers. You can’t do brunch at Ruby Tuesday like the rest of the divorced dads?

Neeson’s character, whose name is so irrelevant to the story I can’t recall it, is indeed living in L.A., retired from the spook game and trying to ingratiate himself with his 17-year-old daughter (Maggie Grace, who seems to have reverse-aged  since she died on Lost. Go figure.) The kid lives in fabulous mansion with Neeson’s ex-wife (still-gorgeous Famke Janssen) and the rich, unctious Second Husband (the most overrused Hollywood villian since the Terrorist With a Nonspecific Accent  From A  Country That Won’t Be Named).

The girl wants to go to Paris for a few weeks with a friend. Neeson won’t hear of it because of, well, — he just doesn’t like France. Bad things happen there. Like omlettes that cost 15 dollars. She goes anyway and, wouldn’t you know, is immediately kidnapped.

Call this Permission Slip Porn. It’s every parent’s nightmare: The minute you let your child out of your sight, she’s sold into white slavery. This is exactly why I’m not going to let my daughter join Ski Club.

Does this look like an action hero to you?

Does this look like an action hero to you?

The movie itself is a pastiche of so many other films that I had to take out a notebook and keep a running list. It’s obvious inspiration stems from the Bourne films, but, like Chex Mix, Taken contains a bevy of familiar elements. Start with Hardcore (1979), which features George C. Scott as a conservative Midwesterner trying to save his daughter from the porn industry–and which, by the way, is insane. Throw in, of course, Traffic (2000), with Michael Douglas yanking his kid from a Cincinnati drug den. (Is there any other kind?)

But neither of those fine actors had the mad kind of skills that Neeson has, you know, the ability to crush windpipes with the side of his hand, et cetera. The director, Pierre Morel, helps things along by speeding up the film every time Neeson fights, to make him look faster than he is. Still, how bad would it have been for Neeson’s 50-something character to pause, take a breath a few times, and say, this was a lot easier when I was 30–or Matt Damon. But there’s no time for Lethal Weapon-style humor when your daughter is about to be sold at private auction.

The film is even shameless enough to employ one of my favorite narrative devices, used whenever the protagonist sneaks into a closely guarded lair and begins subduing guards, who inevitably have walkie talkies. As the hero draws nearer, the chief baddie is always heard saying “Where are you, Number Three? Number Three, report!” But, you know, Number Three can’t answer.

In the end, you won’t be surprised to discover not only has Neeson saved his daughter and proved his worth to the snarky ex (“You thought I was no good, but that was before Muslims tried to make our little girl a prostitute.”), but he’s even preserved her virginity (!).

Divorced Dad’s Fantasy, indeed.

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