Neeson plays Bryan, a divorced CIA 'preventer' who has retired in order to spend more time with his 17-year-old daughter Kim, now living in palatial circumstances with her mother and wealthy step-father.
Kim needs his permission to go on a European vacation starting in gay Paris. Bryan at first refuses. He knows what it's like out there...
In the end he caves in and no sooner have Kim and her friend Amanda arrived at Charles de Gaulle than they have been hit on by a charming Frenchie acting as a hook for a gang of Albanian 'scummers' whose business is an unlikely kidnapping and people-trafficking racket.
Kim might be a spoiled brat, but she is crucially also '100% pure'. Her friend Amanda however is blonde and also a bit of a go-er, and so conclusively marked as a likely non-survivor from the outset.
After the pair have been abducted, Bryan legs it to Paris, with the words of a former colleague ringing in his ears - he has at best 96 hours to locate little Kimmy, who is most likely already being pumped with drugs and gang-raped by Balkan low-lifes.
Although the prologue had clearly established Bryan's relationship with his daughter as more than a bit obsessive, his subsequent treatment of dodgy flic Jean Claude's altogether innocent wife is a clue to just how personally he's decided to take this.
The ingredients from what follows derive from a range of action-unintentional comedies such as Commando (retired special forces guy systemtically kills men who kidnapped his daughter), Frantic (American man seeks wife in Paris, snatched from her hotel bedroom by horde of sharp-suited Ahmeds), Hostel (attention all Yanks, watch out for those well-organised Eastern European scummers) and Kiss of the Dragon (Paris is a cess-pit of thuggish and corrupt cops, sadistic pimps and all-round slime-bags).
I had to see this movie after Kermode's hilarious review, because I just knew I would enjoy it immensely. In truth it's no more packed with 'racist stereotypes' of foreigners than Hostel was, and that was conceived by an American. Taken was instead co-scripted by Luc Besson - creator of the original nettoyer (cleaner) - and takes its cues with regards to the state of France's Gendarmerie and its baroque criminal underworld from native exemplars. (These stem from a genre within French cinema that is as absurdist as Guy Ritchie's guns n' geezers.)
The problems with the plot go far deeper than 'who's driving the boat? I loved the way Neeson was able to gain entry into the lair of the Albanian mobsters by convincing them he was a senior French cop, while speaking only English with an Irish-American accent. Elsewhere though he moves things along with unusual CIA techniques that are both resourceful and original.