Remember the 2008 film “Taken?” Given that the movie grossed over $200 million and spawned a cult around Liam Neeson (“Schindler’s List”) as an unstoppable action force, the chance that you remember it is high. However, the average movie-goer likely doesn’t recall — or chooses to forget — the 2012 and 2014 sequels, “Taken 2” and “Taken 3,” respectively. While these films generated solid box-office figures, they were replete with trite dialogue, rushed storylines and a generic brand of supporting cast.
Unfortunately, NBC’s television adaptation of the film trio, the unoriginally-dubbed “Taken,” reeks entirely of the latter two movies. As the series’ title indicates, the show attempts to ride off the coattails of the first movie, while simultaneously paying little attention to the qualities of the film that made it successful. This lack of awareness dooms the show, with “Taken” offering nothing in the way of a compelling storyline or decent cast, along with containing some of television’s most bland writing.
From the series’ first scenes, “Taken” gives off the impression of lazy production. The show opens with Clive Standen’s (“Vikings”) character, Bryan Mills, aboard a train with his sister Cali, forgettably played by Celeste Desjardins (“Lost & Found”). The entire setup doesn’t attempt to hide the obvious: their lives are in danger, evidently being pursued by two men donning trench coats and refusing to remove their hands from their pockets. Such suspicious-looking attire immediately sticks out to any audience member as a poor excuse for a criminal’s garb. It’s the type of outfit that is so stereotypically and classically linked with shady activity that it leaves viewers wondering just how much effort the show’s creators put into “Taken.” While some programs do have predictable elements, the fact that it was clearly apparent from this scene that Cali was going to be murdered by these assassins is a sign of sloppiness — the sort of which prevents “Taken” from gaining any momentum.
The show’s overall lack of care and creativity extends into its writing, which is plagued by a continuous stream of unoriginal and banal lines. Outside of a solid speech by Romano Orzari (“White House Down”) as the series’ central antagonist, “Taken” has only generically-written conversations that sound as if they are ripped straight from any terrible action movie of the past 20 years. Even the briefest, simplest scenes contain vague, nonspecific language that does little to entertain viewers or present “Taken” ’s plotline in an interesting or exciting way, with Standen describing his late-sister by saying: “She was something, let me tell you. Beautiful. Kind. Smart.” With such general lines filling the show, it’s no wonder none of the characters display any depth.
To make matters worse for “Taken,” it is composed of an unconvincing cast that lacks any semblance of chemistry. Playing the show’s star, Standen brings little emotion or intrigue to his part, claiming extreme remorse over his sister’s death yet never showing any. As an intelligence officer, Jennifer Beals (“The Book of Eli”) is also content to read monotonously from the series’ generic script. Despite possessing terrifying roles on the surface as characters with cartel connections, Gaius Charles (“Friday Night Lights”) and Monique Gabriela Curnen (“The Dark Knight”) inspire zero fear in either viewers or Mills himself. For the cast of “Taken,” its only redeeming quality is Kris Holden-Ried (“Lost Girl”), who delivers a quality performance as a corrupt DEA agent driven by a sincere emotional desire to protect his family, unlike Standen.
Although Holden-Ried is solid in his part, his role is far too minor and his performance not memorable enough to fix the inherent flaws of “Taken,” which are extreme. The series’ lazy production value extends to nearly every aspect of the show, begging the question as to why NBC elected to market it so heavily and with such high expectations. As a television show, “Taken” bears nothing in common with the successful original film beyond the names of its characters, and it should be avoided like the plague.