Too-tidy sequel can’t be saved
By Ann Hornaday
Friday, October 5, 2012
“Taken,” about a former CIA operative who uses his considerable brawn and brain to rescue his teenage daughter from a bunch of sadistic sex-trade traffickers, was a surprise hit in 2009. The nervy kid-in-jeopardy thriller opened quietly at the beginning of the year, chugging along to make a respectable $100 million-plus at the box office.
The appeal of “Taken,” apart from its straightforward, unpretentious approach to otherwise pedestrian material, was Liam Neeson. As “Taken” protagonist Bryan Mills, he infused an otherwise by-the-numbers procedural with an ineffable, highly appealing blend of Celtic soul and 6-foot-4-inch heft. As an instantly sympathetic embodiment of paternal reassurance and alpha-male ferocity, Neeson reinvigorated his career with “Taken,” embarking on a series of similarly pulpy thrillers (“Unknown,” “The Grey”) that seemed to surprise even him. You can’t blame Neeson, or the “Taken” producers, for trying to catch lightning in a bottle again.
What you can blame them for is “Taken 2,” a sequel every bit as clumsy, ham-handed, outlandish and laughable as the original was sleek, tough and efficient. “Taken 2” finds Bryan back in Los Angeles, teaching his daughter Kim (Maggie Grace, now officially past her sell-by date playing teenagers) to drive and gazing wistfully at his ex-wife, Lenore (Famke Janssen), when he picks Kim up for their weekly Saturday tutorial. When Bryan travels to Istanbul on business, circumstances conspire to bring Kim and Leni there in order to surprise him; soon, all three are caught up in a nasty web of kidnapping, sadistic torture and revenge spun by the very Albanian bad guys Bryan recently vanquished on behalf of his daughter.
It’s a perfectly acceptable setup, but from its first set piece -- a low-octane chase through an Istanbul bazaar, followed by a weirdly muffled, awkwardly choreographed fist fight -- “Taken 2” possesses the perfunctory mark-hitting of a movie more invested in going through the motions than raising its own bar. The spook-tested tricks and superhuman powers of observation that Bryan trotted out in the first film are now played for maximum preposterousness, such as an utterly laughable gambit involving hand grenades and eastward-blowing flags, or a life-saving feat of deduction accomplished with a map, a Sharpie pen and a shoelace.
Bryan is still the man with all the answers, the modern era’s dream of competence and moral clarity rolled into one hunky package. But in the clunky hands of “Taken 2” director Olivier Megaton (working from a phoned-in script by producer Luc Besson and Robert Mark Kamen), he’s become little more than a know-it-all who dispatches every obstacle as if he’d anticipated it all along. There’s no crafty fun to be had watching him figuring it all out.
By the time “Taken 2” stages a second, ludicrously conceived car chase, which leads to an equally absurd tableau of macho posturing in a Turkish bath, the entire enterprise feels as false and tidy as the tasteful drop of blood that adorns Bryan’s chin. When Neeson visited “The Daily Show” earlier this week, Jon Stewart eagerly asked if a “Taken 3” was in the works. The actor visibly recoiled, his hand slashing his throat in a “that’s enough” gesture, suggesting that the star is painfully aware that sometimes lightning should stay in the bottle.
Contains intense sequences of violence and action and some sensuality.