“Taken” was a surprise big-screen blockbuster when it was released in 2008 with star Liam Neeson — and must have seemed irresistible to TV programmers always searching for ways to get demographic-friendly male eyeballs on their screens.
The first installment of the action franchise grossed $226 million and revived Neeson’s career. But how do you take that impressive pedigree and make it into a weekly episodic series? Writer and executive producer Alexander Cary (“Homeland”) has decided to take Bryan Mills, Neeson’s retired CIA operative, put him in a time machine, turn the dial to “30 years” and have a fashionably grizzled young hunk (Clive Standen) emerge.
Whereas Neeson was avenging his daughter’s kidnapping (do sons ever get kidnapped in Hollywood?), Standen is an ex-Green Beret who goes on the warpath when his sister is murdered on a commuter train — in an expertly directed sequence by Alex Graves (he helmed the justifiably famous “The Mountain and the Viper” episode of “Game of Thrones.”)
The villain here is Carlos Meija (Romano Orzari), a South American cartel boss who holds Mills responsible for the death of his son. The twist in your average TV revenge show plot comes courtesy of Christina Hart (Jennifer Beals), the female Jack Webb. She runs a secret US intelligence agency intent on recruiting Mills as an operative. But Hart wants the villain alive so Mills — who can run, jump and scale tall buildings with the best of them — needs a certain amount of re-tooling.
This is where “Taken” bogs down, as Hart’s band of stone-faced (but “diverse”) operatives mostly stare at computer screens and deliver their lines with all the panache of a Maytag repairman. Also (and this is true for many “action” series), they can never catch the bad guy.
In the generally successful second episode, the villain-of-the-week, who puts Hart and another woman in grave danger, rides away from the crime scene on a motorcycle, and later eludes capture in a parking garage (a TV trope that needs to be retired) even though he’s being chased by 50 people. Just how did any of these mopes get a job as operatives with the US government? Some of the contestants on “American Ninja Warrior” have better skills.
The British-born Standen is a handsome lad who goes about his business with an earnest grittiness, but even he seems at a loss when he’s made to answer Mills’ doorbell clad in only a towel to talk to his sister’s pretty friend (Brooklyn Sudano, daughter of the late disco queen Donna Summer). His confused expression seems to ask, “How did I end up on ‘The Young and the Restless’”?
While the target audience will probably dig the extensive action sequences and vivid violence, there’s no reason anyone else should be “Taken” for a ride.
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