After a stellar film career being noble, Liam Neeson is more fun when he's beating up bad guys.
His "Taken 2" was huge news at the box office last weekend, putting him up there with Matt, Tom, Bruce, Sly, Ahnuld, Chuck and all the guys who have played Bond, James Bond, over the years. And he did it without the most potent weapon in the first "Taken" - the sheer surprise of seeing the star of "Schindler's List," the pillar of "Star Wars," the voice of Aslan, the tearful widower in "Love Actually" and all-purpose literary classics protagonist transformed into a not-quite retired, take-no-prisoners CIA killing machine.
After his daughter Kim (Maggie Grace) was abducted by East European sex slavers in the first "Taken," there was a visceral - if politically incorrect - dimension in seeing Neeson's Bryan Mills not only bring her abductors to justice, but making them hideously suffer for their deeds. It bordered on sadism, true, but it was sooooo satisfying to watch. Any dad in the audience could relate.
Neeson is no less appealing in "Taken 2," which once again combines exotic continental action with more basic American family values. It's like The Bourne Identity Meets the Parents. There's even room for touches of humor as Liam settles more comfortably into the steely action-hero but still fretting dad role.
Careening through narrow streets and alleys in endless car chases and showdowns, he's a master of counterbalancing desperation with brilliant deductions at breakneck speed. "Taken 2" also gets into divorced family dynamics, after daughter Kim and her mother (Famke Jansen) are abducted on what was supposed to be an Istanbul sightseeing trip with Dad.
Kim becomes more of an action hero herself this time. She takes the wheel in the movie's best car chase, a running joke since she kept flunking her driving test back in Beverly Hills. She crashes through roadblocks, outruns a speeding locomotive and trashes countless Istanbul cop cars, with Liam in the shotgun seat yelling, "Faster, Kim, faster!"
After the recent return of Sly Stallone and company in the "Expendables" sequel, it's encouraging to see what Liam Neeson brings to the genre. Where the formula used to measure testosterone in terms of muscles and machine guns, his brand is more thoughtful and modest, not to mention somewhat conflicted about this line of work.
He doesn't do it because he likes it, but he's been highly trained and does it well.
It's no accident that his cell phone is among his most powerful weapons. Some of the film's most exciting "action" is mental, and phones provide critical links at crucial times, prefaced with that Irish-inflected, "Now listen carefully "
Finding the elusive line between justice and vengeance, Neeson comes full circle. He didn't abandon his nobility after all - he just made action-hero a noble profession. And in an era of daughters rolling their eyes as they stretch "Da-a-ad!" into three syllables - he reminds us of what fathers still know best: Sometimes being taken for granted is the best feeling there is.
If he gets the vote as best action dad, he's not alone on movie screens these days in a father-daughter relationship. "Taken 2" took the top spot at the box office from the clever comedy of "Hotel Transylvania," in which an animated Adam Sandler transforms Count Dracula into a caped hotelier catering to a lobby full of misunderstood monsters as he tries to overly protect his own daughter, Mavis (Selena Gomez), even though she just turned 118.
Then there's Clint Eastwood and Amy Adams playing out father-daughter guilt and abandonment issues in the Capra-esque drama-comedy of "Trouble with the Curve."
But this week's funniest and most engaging thoughts about fathers and daughters - well, mostly daughters and boyfriends - come in the wry sleeper musical comedy hit, "Pitch Perfect."
Starring the always awesome Anna Kendricks and a terrific if neurotic bunch of co-stars, "Pitch Perfect" focuses on the fun-filled world of competitive collegiate a cappella singing - who knew?
Its producer and scene-stealing co-star Elizabeth Banks was honored last June's Maui Film Festival in Wailea. Demonstrating that smart, funny and gorgeous don't have to be mutually exclusive, she plays key roles on both sides of the camera, leaving young audiences buzzing on a high note as the film makes good on its title in ways even dads will understand.
* Contact Rick Chatenever at email@example.com