Some films simply don’t require a sequel: Bucky Larson, Jack and Jill, The Tourist and now Taken 2, or better yet, “Taken 2 the Cleaners,” in which a moviegoer and his cinematic cents are all too soon parted.
Though unintentional, the film laughably exploits the one compelling line from 2008’s Taken, in which seasoned CIA operative Bryan Mills (Liam Neeson) warns his daughter Kim (Maggie Grace) over a cell phone, mere seconds prior to her abduction that, “You will be taken.” Here, trying to catch lightning a second time, the same scriptwriting team of Luc Besson and Robert Mark Kamen make the unfortunate decision to have Mr. Neeson utter a similar warning, once again to poor Kim, once again over a cell phone: “Your mother and I are about to be taken.” If and when we’re ever subject to a Taken 3, one can only assume that daughter Kim will have turned into an agoraphobic cell-a-phobic, a female Norman Bates if you will, curled up in a fetal position in a dark corner of a padded cell, spewing expletives about iPhones, tourism and oh, yes, daddy dearest.
This time around, Kim barely manages to evade capture while Bryan and his ex-wife Lenore (Famke Janssen) are abducted by those wild and wooly Albanians. It’s family ties all around, with the father of the prior film’s flesh trade trafficker bent on avenging his son’s death. Though Bryan attempts to explain his murderous actions, the Albanian kingpin Murad (Rade Serbedzija) doesn’t care to hear any excuses, no matter how defensible.
In this story, two years have passed since Kim’s kidnapping and the ensuing rescue operation enacted by her dad. She’s emotionally scarred yet stronger, and the relationship between the young woman and her father has deepened. As for the ex-wife, Lenore has softened, reassessing the fact that maybe her prior CIA hubby wasn’t such a bad guy … particularly in comparison to the unpleasant second spouse she’s about to divorce. Neeson’s Bryan is still very much the family man, hoping for a reconciliation with Lenore and hovering over his teenage daughter, checking up on her new boyfriend, supervising her driving lessons, etc. When he discerns timid signals of potential reconciliation from his ex, Bryan suggests that Lenore and Kim join him in Istanbul after he finishes a three-day assignment — and to his delight, they agree. But what with the family suddenly having to cope with imprisonment in dank caves, harrowing rooftop escapes and careening car chases (did I mention that Kim hasn’t learned to drive yet?), taking in the Turkish sights takes a back seat to staying alive.
The chases and fights are more plentiful than in the first film, seemingly used to pad this slim story. Bryan’s CIA cohorts are once again passed over, all too briefly employed in one buddy barbecue episode and a phone call. Idiotic lines abound, such as Bryan’s stern admonitions to Kim regarding the abduction that “this isn’t a game” and, as she speeds through the streets with the baddies hot on her tail, “Go faster, go faster.” “I can’t, I can’t!” she cries back. Perhaps the family is hoping to bore the killers to death with redundancy.
Director Olivier Megaton (adopting that surname in remembrance of the bombing of Hiroshima, occuring on the day of his birth, 20 years’ prior), directs with an aggressive, if not always logical, eye. Scenes are just silly: a touching sequence between Bryan and Lenore is inexplicably cut short; in an attempt to help his ex-wife escape, Bryan dispenses such a rush of confusing instructions, he might as well be speaking in Turkish; and, in a stern directive to his daughter, who’s tearing through the hotel in a tomato-red bikini, he suggests that she not call any attention to herself.
As for the Albanians, they primarily speak in English (even privately, among themselves), only periodically breaking into their native tongue to remind us that they’re foreign. And when Bryan, dressed in a large and lumpish leather jacket throughout most of the film, suddenly peels it off to fight mano-a-mano with an enemy, the effect is ludicrous rather than dramatic. Particularly since he’s wearing a large and lumpish shirt underneath.
Neeson conveys an air of the awkward, as if the actor knows he’s not physically believable as a top-dog super agent who can take down sheer armies of men relying solely on his wits and athleticism, which appears questionable at best. He depicts a certain charm, but given his dramatic talents (Schindler’s List, anyone?), Neeson has a lot more to offer the cinema than woefully reheated action.
Let’s hope that Taken 2 takes itself to the hills, for once and for all.
Rating on a scale of 5 misTakens: 1.5
Release date: October 5, 2012
Directed by: Olivier Megaton
Screenplay by: Luc Besson & Robert Mark Kamen
Cast: Liam Neeson, Maggie Grace, Famke Janssen, Leland Orser, Jon Gries, D.B. Sweeney, Luke Grimes, Rade Serbedzija
Running Time: 91 minutes