‘Taken 2’ kills more fun than foes

Photo from CNN.

Remember that movie where Liam Neeson’s daughter gets kidnapped and he kills everyone who knows where she is? It was called “Stolen” or “Nabbed” or something along those lines. Anyway, everybody overreacted to how “amazing” it was and hailed Liam Neeson as the greatest action hero of all time, which of course led to a string of terrible movie decisions for poor Mr. Neeson.

But hey, the plot was resolved, the movie was fairly successful and everyone washed their hands of it forever. Right? Not even close, sir! Somewhere, probably in an eastern European country similar to the one in “Taken,” a group of grown men sat and thought of how to turn the completed film into a franchise. Lo and behold, the world must now suffer the wrath of “Taken 2.”

Fans of the first film will find the plot easily digestible. After Bryan Mills (Liam Neeson) killed half of Europe in the search for his daughter, one of the deceased’s father (Rade Serbedzija) claims that he will get his revenge on Mills. To make things easier for him, Mills drags his ex-wife Lenore (Famke Janssen) and his daughter Kim (Maggie Grace) to Istanbul for a vacation. After about a day, the men find the Mills family and proceed to nab Bryan and Lenore, leaving daughter Kim to find them. After the inevitable rescue, Bryan sets out to kill everybody involved in the kidnapping, hoping to end the threat against his family for good.

For a kidnapping victim, Maggie Grace’s Kim is kind of an ungrateful brat. Photo from NPR.

So the story is simple enough to follow, but that’s not the reason theater seats are brimming with bums quivering with excitement. The bleak, violent action is meant to be the centerpiece here, after all. If that’s the case, then why did all of the ruckus feel so formulaic? When not shooting copious amounts of lead into faceless pursuers, Bryan fights like he’s got an anchor tied around his ankles. His strikes are calculated and precise, but he’s about as sluggish as a strung out grandmother.

Perhaps the most glaring issue with “Taken 2: Electric Boogaloo” is that nobody really seems to remember the events from the first film. Bryan’s daughter resents him for putting a tracker in her phone, claiming that he needs to let go. Unless she suffered major amnesia from the trauma of her kidnapping, it seems like something that trivial wouldn’t seem to bother a victim like her. At times, the family even makes jokes about the whole thing! There’s coping, and then there’s plain stupidity. This sequel lies firmly in the latter territory.

Even after the parents are taken, Kim and Lenore second-guess the man who proved that he knows exactly what he’s doing. Is there any reason to do that unless they get off on being kidnapped? This poor guy rescues his family twice, and all he gets in return is a slew of jokes about how violent he is. He might not shoot Kim’s boyfriend like they jest, but at this point he sure deserves to.

At least the villains are finally given a face this time around, and Serbedzija is serviceable as the menacing Murad. Of course, he makes many counterproductive decisions (leave Bryan alone in his cell, take about an hour and a half to start killing his wife, etc.) that really makes it hard for him to succeed. The fact that he looks like the Dos Equis guy makes it easier to give him a good catchphrase: “I don’t always kidnap families, but when I do, I give them ample opportunity to outsmart me.”

The score is interesting, if only because a few familiar songs are used throughout. Fans of last year’s magnificent “Drive” will notice more than a couple tracks from that film. Not that this is a terrible thing, but it’s a fun little trivia game to play in the theater when boredom sets in around the 30 minute mark.

It’s okay Liam, we still love you. Photo from Shock Ya.

Neeson is working way below his pay grade here, as he’s proven before that he’s an actor who can handle any kind of role with an effortless air that’s all his own. Even though he’s made Bryan Mills his own character, it’s one that should have been left behind when a shred of dignity was still intact. Neeson will make it through this film unscathed (he could make it through “The Room” unharmed), but  “Taken 2” leaves the impression that there’s a better action movie waiting for him somewhere.

If any fans of the first movie walk into “Taken 2: The Takening” with any expectations beyond the first, their dreams will be shattered. The PG-13 rating doesn’t feel quite as pushed as it did in the original, and the action isn’t nearly as visceral. Based on the returns from the opening weekend, chances are good “Taken 3: Take Harder” will eventually surface. Maybe it can redeem this snoozer of a sequel, or maybe it will finally prove that this franchise never should have gone past the first ho-hum title. The action is half as entertaining, and the movie itself is twice as dumb as the original. Being taken by some smelly Eurotrash is a better fate than sitting through another half-hearted sequel.

Speakeasy grade: D+

“Taken 2”

Starring Liam Neeson, Maggie Grace, Famke Janssen, Rade Serbedzija

Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action, and some sensuality.

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