Friday, September 11, 2009

Taken: American stereotypes of the Continent in Femme Jep

A recent email thread on the subject of fifth graders and why most of them do not need cell phones...let alone text messaging, called to mind this movie.

...Can't imagine why a fifth grader needs a cell phone for a school trip to France. I can barely figure out the international dialing prefixes from and to various countries, myself...but, then maybe I'm not as smart as a fifth grader. Do they actually think their child is in-danger, in their private school, guided tour over there? Reminds me of an in-flight movie I saw…

“Femme Jep” refers to a genre of movies featuring women (from the French word “femme”) in danger (jeopardy). It seems that some women have a statistic-defying penchant for encountering Mortal Danger. Or maybe it’s a vocation to one day appear as guest invitees, sobbing on the maternal bosom or sympathetic paternal shoulder of the host, saying things like “I know I shouldn’t have gotten into that car.” Think the whole tedious thread with Jack Bauer’s daughter, Kim, in the early 24s. The girl couldn’t make it further than 2 exits on the highway without encountering a psychopath or rapist.

Taken is the story of a down and out, ex-US Special Forces father (surprisingly cast as Liam Neeson), trying to build a relationship with the teenage daughter he neglected, back when he was making the world a safer place for democracy. He is nervous about his daughter and her girlfriend traveling alone to Paris. Rightfully, so, as it turns it out. Barely have the girls gotten off the plane at Orly (or maybe it’s CDG, can’t remember) when they meet a young French cheeseball, who offers to share a cab with them, on the way to their apartment. Lo and behold, he turns out to be a Spotter. Before the afternoon is even over, our two virtuous American girls have been abducted by a, get this, White Slavery Ring. Now, I know this sort of thing exists and it is perfectly awful, but the truth is they are far more likely to target girls from poor countries whose families (if they have any), can't afford to find and get them back. If I were an enterprising white slaver from Kryzhghfuckistan, do you think I would go to the trouble of abducting upper middle class American girls from the cab line at Orly, girls with ex-Spec Ops dads just waiting for a chance to Redeem Themselves, not to mention well-heeled stepfathers with private planes?

The highlight of the movie is an auction in the basement of an elegant hôtel particulier in Paris (definitely an Eyes Wide Shut “transgression among the rich and powerful” look to this scene), where wealthy buyers, including degenerate Arab sheiks, bid for the flower of our teenage American womanhood. Taken plays out like a de Sade plot, without the benefit of (intentional) social satire. Because, if you owned a multi-million dollar yacht, you’d actually need a pillowcase and handcuffs to get an attractive woman onto it?

Reading Wikipedia, I was surprised on two accounts 1) to learn that the movie had been financially successful 2) that it had been written and produced by Luc Besson. That would explain why the action scenes and suspense build-up did work well. Reflecting on Besson’s other work, I definitely like The Professional and La Femme Nikita better, but Not The Fifth Element! In the first two, the visual quality of his storytelling makes up for the limited plot.

As for Taken, part of what makes it a B movie--in addition to, as a by-product of?...the unoriginal story, and the uninspired storytelling, is its reliance on clichés—the young girl in jeopardy, the hard-boiled, yet tender-hearted father, the nefarious villains, the crooked cop. In this way, the film-maker can 1) by-pass the hard work involved in coming up with multi-faceted characters and plot 2) be assured that he is plugging into characters and themes with which his audience can easily identify. The only thing that surprised me, was that the underworld image of Paris, as such a dangerous place, was one them.

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