(This review was originally published on October 5, 2012 at Reel Film News)
In “Taken 2”, Bryan Mills (Liam Neeson) re-employs his ‘particular set of skills’ to save himself and his family from abduction in Istanbul. He should have used common sense instead. That way, he might have been left with enough stamina to overcome a terribly contrived script; here, it feels like Neeson is being held hostage as an actor, forced to spend a large portion of screen time on the telephone rattling off instructions to his daughter Kim (Maggie Grace) as she jumps across rooftops and steals time that might have been allotted for some hand-to-hand combat, or maybe better plot development. Nothing against Ms. Grace. But as the sequel playbook dictates, they must ‘up the stakes’. Just don’t change the formula, I guess.
So, despite any measure of reason, bringing your teenage (or twenty-something) daughter back to a part of the world where you’ve recently saved her from a sex-trafficking ring becomes a great vacation idea. Seriously, he makes such a big deal about her having a boyfriend back home in California.
This would have all been fine, because all we want is to see Neeson continue kicking people’s asses. Instead, we get a driving instructor. A typically overprotective ex-CIA dad – you know the kind – portrayed in the first film by Neeson with the angry restraint of someone who’s been jaded by being in the game too long, has been thoroughly diluted here. Screenwriters Luc Besson (who also produced) and Robert Mark Kamen milk their original story for all its worth; this time around, the father of one of the Albanian traffickers that Mills dispatched in “Taken” – the one he lit up like a Christmas tree with jumper cables – has come for a long, drawn-out revenge, with some long, drawn-out bad guy speeches to set up the impending scenario. It’s the “Die Hard With A Vengeance” of this franchise, only without much excitement or coherent direction. And honestly, none of them really seem worse for the wear anyway.
This doesn’t have much to do with Neeson (though 2012 hasn’t been his year with “Battleship” and “Wrath of the Titans”). He’s done the best anyone could, given the material. I suppose everyone has, including Maggie Grace and Famke Janssen as her mom, who doesn’t do much more than sit in a dungeon and cringe while bad guys threaten her with sharp objects and make exaggerated, sinister expressions. This hayride seems like nothing more than a segue into a third entry in the series; it’s made clear at one point in the film that if our main villain, played by Rade Sherbedgia (terrific in “Snatch”, squandered here), were to find an untimely demise, his other two sons would surely come after Mills and his family for another round. I guess they just decided to sit this one out, instead of helping their dad – strange for such a tight-knit family of criminals. Maybe they were too busy rounding up unsuspecting female tourists in France to listen to his voicemail about the whole ‘avenging their brother’ thing.
If there were a scrap of logic in the first film, which I enjoyed, it’s certainly not on the itinerary here, even within the realm of ‘action film believability.’ It gets so ridiculous, in fact, that the laughter from the rows behind me actually improved the experience. The action sequences are rather frustrating and watered down; the editing makes for an obscure ride, failing to emulate the Paul Greengrass shaky-cam style from the “Bourne” films that it seems to be going for. There’s just a lot of swinging and sound effects to buffer the time between bad dialogue like “I’m gonna do what I do best,” and “Your mother and I are going to be taken. Here’s a shopping list of ways to save us later.” Director Olivier Megaton (“Transporter 3”, also written by Besson and Kamen) proves that as long as you avoid blood, audible neck-snaps or any discernible contact during fight scenes, you can make almost anything PG-13.
Not a single action sequence grabbed me in this film, and trust me, I’m an action simpleton. But the energy seems like it ended up on the cutting room floor. With one fumbled payoff after another, we are forced to focus on dialogue and story; this does not benefit “Taken 2”, which seems a lot like one of those spoof shorts made for the MTV Movie Awards. In one scene, when he realizes they are being tailed, Mills gives his ex-wife detailed directions from the back of a cab to a designated ‘safe’ location in the city, with about 30 different turns and doors to remember. The verbal exchange rises to a comic degree. She doesn’t write any of it down. But if it had all worked out there, I suppose the movie wouldn’t have happened.
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