I, like the next guy have been waiting for three years to see Liam Neeson once again dominate the screen. But I must be frank, not only did I feel royally disappointed with “Taken 2” without exception its diminishing returns will take you 2.
In 2009 “Taken” was well received by theatergoers and enjoyed both box office success and reviews that were consistently above fair. Overall it was an enthusiastic hit that nobody expected. The “Taken” series gripped audiences because it featured a cast in which movie goes were not used to seeing in the action drama genre and it had an interestingly fresh plot. Audiences were clearly satisfied with the entertainment received and many now anticipate the second edition “Taken 2.” For the most part, Liam Neeson was able to sell audiences on the reworked traditional plot, that kept moviegoers on the edge of their seats, as he played a retired CIA agent bent on getting his kidnapped teenage daughter back from a lunatic son of a mob boss. It had all the special effects, male virility, and explosive action packed rapid movement. But here’s a movie where its title says it all, so you can’t say that you weren’t warned; don’t get taken too.
“Taken 2” is more or less a continuation of the “Taken” one plot, only this time the bad guys are out for revenge. Murad played by Rade Serbedzij, is the father, whose son was responsible for kidnapping Bryan’s (Liam Neeson) daughter in the first edition. Never mind his son was a bad guy, I guess since the fruit came from the same tree it is to be expected.
Bryan Mills lives in Los Angeles separated from his daughter’s mother but they appear to be trying to work things out. Of course his daughter, who lives with her mother, means the world to him so he tells them that once he returns from a three day security assignment in Istanbul, he will make it a priority to spend more time as a family.
As fate would have it, mother and daughter decide to surprise him by popping up in Istanbul unannounced. This results in a sequence of events which gives the Albanian crime boss, Murad an opportunity to unleash a squad of approximately 30 killers to capture Bryan, his ex-wife, Lenore (Famke Janssen) and his daughter Kim.
They’re such amateurs, Murad and his boys, that it’s like watching Mills shoot puppies in a pet store window as he takes them out individually and in bunches. There’s little sense of peril to Mills and his women, even Lenore, who spends much of the movie bound and whimpering, with knives at her throat (what fun for Janssen this job must have been).
The filmmakers decide to promote Grace’s Kim from whimper-woman in “Taken” to her dad’s apprentice here, with pretty silly results. Under Mills’ guidance, Kim tosses live grenades indiscriminately around Istanbul so her dad can use the explosions to triangulate the position of Murad’s lair.
Seriously; that’s how dumb the movie is.
There was something primal about “Taken,” a father putting all his brains and brawn into saving his little girl, and doing it with startling ferocity and ingenious trade-craft.
While the original was predictable and hardly more believable, it got by on a propulsive energy from director Pierre Morel and a sense of surprise. This time out, fellow Frenchman Olivier Megaton (“Colombiana,” “Transporter 3″), working from a script by Luc Besson and Robert Mark Kamen (both of whom wrote the first “Taken”), turns out a lethargic retread. Even the fight scenes are clumsily shot, making it hard to follow what’s happening.
One of the problem is that it’s a little too similar. Sequels breed an air of predictability, but this time it crosses over to rote asininity. Also, there’s a weird morality to the story that wasn’t there in the first installment. With the first film, there was something vaguely cathartic about seeing Neeson killing a bunch of nebulously ethnic baddies. He was righteously saving his cute blonde daughter from some pretty severe horrors. But this time around, the villains are actually pretty justified in their actions and Neeson’s craven brutality seems more vile and vicious. (And the fact that he brings the rest of his family into this seedy business is another matter altogether.)
Megaton, too, shows none of the stylistic flair that Morel displayed with the first film, offering blunt force trauma over the occasionally well-detailed work of the original. In short: it’s been there, bashed in the head of that.
This is old-style sequel mentality. Do a quick, crappy replay of the original, dump it in theaters and grab whatever cash you can before fans realize they’ve been had.
Granted, there are things that have to be taken on faith in a movie like this (why are all the bad guys bad shots?), but there are some head scratchers here too big to ignore. Why wouldn’t at least one of Murad’s many goons stand watch over a chained-up Bryan instead of giving him enough alone time to figure a way out and communicate with his daughter?
Knowing how junky and commercial “Taken 2″ is doesn’t take away from how exciting it can occasionally be. There’s a great car chase sequence that niftily riffs off the fact that, back in the states, Neeson is teaching his daughter how to drive. But then when you think about it, how is it that Kim, who was just starting to take driving lessons at the start of the film, is able to maneuver a careening Mercedes through the byzantine streets of Istanbul like a stunt driver — under a hail of bullets no less — and not kill half the city or, at least, herself? (she’s failed her license test three times because of her inabilities to parallel park). Elsewhere, Neeson unleashes his fury in some pretty spectacular ways, and the Eastern European location photography adds some much needed visual variety (although, handily, religion is never addressed). If you came across one of these sequences while channel surfing, it would be impossible to turn away afterwards, but we find it hard to imagine us ever watching this thing again from the beginning.
As for the palpable delight I felt at the novelty of a real actor as no-nonsense action hero in the original, with Neeson and his undeniably commanding screen presence lending gravitas to his violent vigilante, it has nonetheless given way to a been-there-seen-that reprise as Neeson and his scripters return once too often to the action well.
As much a remake as a sequel, Taken 2 kicks off by raising the contrivance level to new heights with its credulity-straining premise, and the law of diminishing returns kicks in almost immediately.