I guess you have to call this one a guilty pleasure. I’m almost ashamed to admit how much I enjoyed it, because it contains many of the elements I’ve railed against in past reviews of action/thriller movies. The worst one is the bad guys who can’t shoot straight, even with Uzis at almost point-blank range. There is a car chase that is almost incoherent, no way of telling which person is in which car. I could go on … but the fact is, I really got into this one. Liam Neeson seems to bring something to this standard plot that just makes it work. He’s a retired CIA agent (he calls himself a “preventer,” in that he prevents bad things from happening). His daughter is kidnapped and sold into what used to be called white slavery. The sex trade. Dope ‘em up and ship ‘em off to a degenerate Arab in Saudi or Kuwait. You know the drill.
The first half hour establishes his iffy relationship with her. He’s divorced from her mother because of his job, mom remarried to a very rich guy, she’s a bit spoiled but loves her daddy. Against his wishes, she goes off to Europe with a friend, and is spotted at the airport and kidnapped within hours of getting to her apartment. (They might as well have been wearing signs on their backs: ABDUCT ME!) But she’s on the phone with dad as the kidnapping is going down, and from that scene on, they had me. Watching Neeson as he listens, and thinks furiously and intelligently all the while, already planning what he needs to do to get her back … it was intense. From that moment he is a killing machine, willing to do absolutely anything to get her back. Yeah, so he kills 20 or 30 people in the process (I lost count). Each and every one was such a scumbag that I felt like cheering. He tortures one of them with electricity, and when he goes off and leaves him bound and twitching from the current still being on … my main reaction was that the shithead got off easy. I am morally opposed to torture … most of the time. It is almost always unacceptable for a nation to do it (the exceptions are so rare they’re not even worth talking about), but there are circumstances where I could do it. If someone was holding someone dear to me hostage, and someone else knew where I should go to rescue her … well, that second someone had better never let me get the drop on him. I would pull his intestines out through his nose if that’s what it took to get him to talk.
Yeah, yeah, the only way this revenge and retribution fantasy works is by setting up people so evil that Gandhi would probably want to torture them … but it works for me. The world is so full of truly evil people … who get away with it! … that every once in a while it’s fun to get a little emotional release, to believe for the length of a movie that justice can be meted out by a single determined, skilled, and absolutely deadly man.
BTW: One thing we don’t see here is what is rapidly become my least favorite movie cliché: The “good guy” walking slowly away while behind him a massive explosion goes off. This scene was in both of the trailers before the movie. I’ve seen it 30 or 40 times now, and it annoys me even more than that other cliché: our heroes outrunning such an explosion. Is this supposed to be cool? It’s so stupid. If I had a good reason to blow a car or a building up, I’d damn sure want to watch! Wouldn’t you?