There was something special about 2008’s Taken, starring Liam Neeson as an ex-CIA operative raising hell to rescue his teenage daughter from a Eurotrash sex slavery ring. It was a fast, efficient, Paris-set thriller about a father who’d stop at nothing to save his child, stylish in execution and, as action pictures go, one that really delivered, not the least of which due to Neeson’s two-fisted tough-guy act, a new chapter to his previous career as a dramatic actor.
The same praise can’t quite be heaped on Taken 2, which does exactly—and nothing more—than what its title promises. It has passable action sequences, a bit of family drama and some wildly silly plot convolutions that give new meaning to the term suspension of disbelief. It isn’t dark, scary and xenophobic like the original; it’s merely an escape movie by the numbers.
This time out good dad and dutiful ex-husband Bryan Mills (Neeson) takes estranged wife Lenore (Famke Janssen) and daughter Kim (Maggie Grace) on an impromptu trip to Istanbul. What he hasn’t deduced is that the sneering Albanian relatives of those he slaughtered in the first pic are bent on revenge.
The picture takes its time getting started with two family contrivances that comprise the film’s first third—Lenore has split with her new husband and Kim has a boyfriend (and can’t drive). After the unfortunate sex slavery episode, dad is now so protective that he actually has a GPS secretly installed in her cell phone, allowing him to fetch her away from a perfectly nice new boyfriend (Luke Grimes).
Meanwhile, Bryan and Lenore bond over her current marital problems and it’s here that the movie, and performances of Neeson and Janssen (an underutilized actress if ever there was one), are strongest—both actors are adept with the emotional subtlety.
In far away Albania are the families of Bryan’s Taken victims, and a swooping aerial crane shot shows us a community burial of the fallen men, where the father of one, Murad Krasniqi (Rade Sherbedgia) solemnly vows to avenge his son’s death. Never mind that the son was a human trafficker who kidnapped young girls—those are just little details, as far as the cardboard villain father is concerned.
Conveniently for Murad, Bryan lands a security job in Istanbul and suggests Lenore and Kim join him for a brief vacation. In an undeniably exciting sequence (and one that we’ve seen many times before), Bryan and Lenore are “taken” after a car chase down the heavily populated streets, imprisoned in a dank basement in the heart of the city. Lenore’s neck is cut and she’s hung upside down to be bled to death, so Bryan snaps into action.
Right here, Taken 2 descends into lunacy. In a surreptitious phone call to Kim, imprisoned Bryan is able to map out his subterranean location, through a cell phone, based on only sound as he instructs the teen the throw a series of grenades—out in the open and from the hotel roof—into the city, each one exploding with little fanfare…in public.
Father and daughter eventually team up to rescue mom in a car chase that runs out of gas and incorporates the film’s silliest conceit, Mills’ superhuman ability to understand and catalogue the byzantine byways of Istanbul’s topography after being previously beaten, hooded and disoriented in a speeding car. It’s touches like this that render some of the picture unintentionally funny, much as Neeson tries to ground the shenanigans with his standard authority.
Taken director Pierre Morel has been replaced this time by action helmer Olivier Megaton (Transporter 3, Colombiana) who dials down the first film’s intensity, replaced with a few underwhelming set-pieces that feature messy and indistinguishable fight choreography en route to a predictable confrontation between hero and villain, which attempts to gray the shades between the men.
Taken 2 is one too many.