Were you appalled at Liam Neeson's 32-person body count in 2008's Taken? Congratulations, you're qualified to be a villain in Taken 2. This sequel picks up months after Neeson slaughtered Paris to protect daughter Maggie Grace's virginity from the highest bidder, and finds him flustered to realize she may be giving it away for free to secret boyfriend Luke Grimes. But first, we see the Albanian cemetery where seven corpses—a mere fraction of Neeson's kills—are being mourned by their loved ones and bitter boss (Croatian character actor Rade Šerbedžija). Director Olivier Megaton (Colombiana) shows us the wailing mothers of the evil dead, a rare sight for any action film, before he reintroduces us to Neeson's own family. But though that's a set-up for Taken 2 to ponder questions of justice and revenge, it knows its audience would rather see Neeson snap necks than wax philosophical. And so he does in a follow-up that feels even slighter and sillier than the original, which itself was no masterstroke of clever plotting. Taken 2 is 91 minutes of "See Neeson kill—kill, Neeson kill!" and it's guaranteed to make a small ransom at the box office. Or else?
Enough time has elapsed between the first and second films that Neeson's European rampage has become a family inside joke, though stories about Uncle Ed crashing into the wedding cake are funnier than ex-wife Famke Janssen cracking wise about the time her dogged former husband found their daughter in a city of 12 million people in 72 hours. Everyone in the film knows Neeson is a bit of a paranoiac, but only director Megaton concedes he might be a full-blown obsessive compulsive who insists on hand-drying his own car at the full-service car wash and literally waits for the clock to turn two before he knocks on Janssen's door for visiting hours with the kid. The idea that Neeson might actual have a mental condition besides, you know, one that would enable him to kill without regret, is a shrewd addition to the character. Action heroes like him simply can't blend into the real world, and when Taken 2's script plops him in mundane Los Angeles, it's smart enough to admit that in peacetime, he's an obnoxious dad who puts trackers on Grace's cellphone and runs all her suitors through the government database.
While these early scenes are played for laughs, the comedy collapses when the happy family decamps for a Turkish for vacation only to be quickly captured by Šerbedžija's minions. The "bad guys"—a concept that has less and less meaning when Šerbedžija gets misty about his dead son, electrocuted by Neeson in Paris—dream of stealing the three back to their motherland to slit their throats over the graves of their dead. And it doesn't take long to track the Americans to Turkey, which the assassins apparently get to by piling in a car and driving the 11 hours from Albania to Istanbul (now that's a road trip flick I'd love to see).
Luckily, Neeson has packed his armored suitcase of death, and after he and Janssen are, yes, taken, he's able to call Grace and walk her through his weaponry, unleashing the teenager to randomly fling grenades across crowded Istanbul. Wanton disregard runs in the family. But mostly, this is all filler for two extended sequences—so choppily shot you have to squint to see the combat—in which Neeson goes full Liam Smash as he dispatches his enemies with the equanimity of a cow chewing cud. Here, he's even more hilariously inhuman under pressure. Who else would dare tell his missus while she's handcuffed, blinded, bleeding, and hung upside down in chains: "You have to be calm." And a scene where he casually talks his daughter through a geometry problem designed to save his skin had the audience snickering with memories of seventh grade.
You almost empathize with Šerbedžija by the time he forces Neeson to look at pictures of the men he's killed and growls, "To you, they were nothing." This whole time, have we rooting for a psycho? If Taken 2 had truly dared to ask why he's the hero, it would have added a jolt of philosophy to this mindless popcorn. But instead, we have Grace introducing dad to her boyfriend and quipping, "Don't shoot this one—I really like him." Everyone laughs, but it's no joke.
Distributor: 20th Century Fox
Cast: Liam Neeson, Famke Janssen, Maggie Grace, Rade Serbedzija
Director: Olivier Megaton
Screenwriters: Luc Besson, Robert Mark Kamen
Producer: Luc Besson
Rating: PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action, and some sensuality.
Running time: 91 min.
Release date: October 5, 2012
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