Year Released: 2001
MPAA Rating: Unrated
Running Time: 75 minutes
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Mark and Nick are brothers spending some quality time together (read as: drinking and partying) on Nick’s birthday. Before his little brother goes home, Nick convinces Mark to join him for a birthday get-together with his buddies, which includes playing “the game,” which involves cruising the streets of L.A. to find johns picking up hookers on the boulevard. Once their spot their prey and begin the pursuit, the players watch as the johns panic, thinking they are being followed by the cops.
However, the boys choose the wrong john this time, a predator that stalks young prostitutes. The predator retaliates, kidnapping two of the gang and leading the rest of the group through a new version of cat-and-mouse. Things get worse as various body parts start to find their way into each other’s lives.
“Taken” has the feel of other “buddy flicks gone bad” like “Very Bad Things” and “Stag,” and to the filmmakers’ credit, the characters in “Taken” are more likeable than in these others – however not that much more likeable. In fact, taking the editing knife (or the digital razor blade) to remove some of the conflict would serve the film. The hook for the audience is not the moral struggle of the characters, but rather the suspense of seeing if the frat prank gone horribly wrong will result in their ultimate demise. Bottom line: this isn’t a character-driven piece, but rather a suspense-of-the-moment flick.
The only character I really cared for was Mark, who was a nice contrast to the obnoxious attitudes of the others. Mark, however, had two weak moments of foolishness – once by letting the group borrow his car for “the game.” The other stupid move was agreeing to burn his car after finding a minced hooker in his front seat. This leads to a scene overly reminiscent of aforementioned “Very Bad Things,” involving the burying of a dismembered prostitute in the desert.
There is some completely unnecessary wraparound narration from the point of view of one of the abductee’s girlfriend’s friend to provide blatant exposition. Fortunately, it only finds its way into the film in fleeting moments.
The biggest problem with “Taken” is the running time. At 75 minutes, it feels that the film was padded to squeak past the 70-minute feature category time requirement for many independent festivals. However, about half of the film could be sent to the cutting room floor, including an overly drawn-out sequence explaining and preparing the group for their “game” and a lengthy chase of the john. Ultimately, it takes over 20 minutes to reach the abduction, which is where the story actually takes off.
Shot on MiniDV, “Taken” has a documentary feel to it – like a “Blair Witch Project” on the streets of L.A. However, part of the padding process involves using cheesy video effects that keep reminding the viewer that it was shot on video and ultimately hurt the pacing and aesthetic.
In today’s world of fast cutting and MTV-style editing, it is nice to see a movie breathe. But “Taken” breathes so much, it begins to hyperventilate before the story actually gets going. However, there are some genuinely creepy moments, and the story moves along once the tables turn on “the game.”
Posted on December 18, 2003 in Reviews by Kevin Carr
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