Saturday, October 13, 2012

Taken 2

TAKEN 2 (Olivier Megaton, 2012)

After rescuing his daughter Kim (Maggie Grace) from human traffickers in TAKEN, former CIA operative Bryan Mills (Liam Neeson) dedicates himself to being there for her, whether she needs him or not, in TAKEN 2.  Given what they went through in Europe, he’s justified in playing the role of the overprotective father.  These days he’s overseeing her driving lessons and, at the drop of a hat, tracking down Kim to her boyfriend’s place despite having been unaware that she’s dating anyone.  

Bryan’s heroics in the previous film appear to have improved his relationship with ex-wife Lenore (Famke Janssen), who’s now on the verge of a split from her wealthy husband.  When a tearful Lenore tells Bryan about her crumbling marriage, he asks her and Kim to join him for some rest and relaxation in Istanbul after he’s done with a job there.  

They accept his invitation, but Albanian toughs interrupt the Mills family vacation.  Led by Murad Krasniqi (Rade Serbedzija), they seek revenge on Bryan for killing their kin, friends, and colleagues when he rescued Kim in Paris.  Before Bryan and Lenore are abducted, he calls his daughter with instructions for how she can get to safety and help her mom and dad escape their captors.

Like the TV series 24, the attraction of TAKEN and its sequel are heroes who can brush aside bad guys with ruthless efficiency and display crack improvisational skills to wiggle out of any number of jams.  24 and the TAKEN films envision a hostile and untrustworthy caricature of a world that is best protected by a paternal figure with government connections and extralegal means at his disposal.  Both Kiefer Sutherland’s Jack Bauer and Neeson’s Bryan even have daughters named Kim.  The disappointment of TAKEN 2 is how long it takes to wind up and deliver Neeson in all his throat-punching and arm-breaking glory.  Enough with all the family theatrics already.  Let’s see Neeson bring the pain.
Maybe the unexpectedness of watching Neeson be so merciless has worn off because TAKEN 2 plays as though it’s going through the motions when he finally gets to take on his enemies.  Director Olivier Megaton competently captures the action and fight scenes, but the results bear little difference from dozens of similar films producer and co-screenwriter Luc Besson’s production company has churned out.  Neeson is a charismatic actor who cuts an imposing figure, but this repeat lacks the vitality and novelty.

In its best scenes the sequel briefly reverses Bryan and Kim’s roles. The security expert becomes someone who needs to be found, and the daughter turns into the rescuer, even if she’s merely following her dad’s detailed guidance.  The clever, if dubious, method of helping to pinpoint one’s unknown location with a hidden cell phone, a city map, a marker, a shoelace, and a few grenades brings a pleasing MACGYVER-like touch, although the achievement is also due to some of the least attentive abductors ever.

The problem in making Bryan the abducted is that TAKEN 2 lacks the immediacy and dramatic stakes of the rampage he goes on in TAKEN to save his daughter.  Obviously Bryan is more than capable of taking care of himself.  His ex-wife needs to be saved this time around, but her plight does not seem urgent for any significant stretches.  With lowered concerns, TAKEN 2 is content to play out as a familiar and lesser version of its predecessor.

Grade: C-

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