By Ken Tucker
February 01, 2009 at 12:00 PM EST

Taken has received mediocre reviews, and some analysts are surprised that this Luc Besson-written action picture is the “unexpected” early-Sunday-estimate box-office winner. Let me guess why this is a “surprise”: because industry-types didn’t expect fiftysomething Liam Neeson, who’s not a trim Matt Damon or a lithe Jason Statham, to grab audiences as a neck-snapping, elbow-to-throat, killing-machine hero.

Taken isn’t great cinema, but take it from someone who sat happily with a nearly-full Saturday audience that cheered most every time Neeson took out one of the creeps who abucted his daughter: A father out to rescue his daughter by any means necessary, with a solid actor in the center of a kinetically-edited action pic–that stuff plays very well with a lot of Americans… and I’ll bet a lot of people outside of America, too.

Why, I’ll bet some of the audience is even old enough to have cheered Charles Bronson in Death Wish and Clint Eastwood in Dirty Harry.

There’s a demo that still goes to opening-weekend movies that shouldn’t be ignored.

Snap on, Liam.