In Istanbul, retired CIA operative Bryan Mills and his wife are taken hostage by the father of a kidnapper Mills killed while rescuing his daughter.
The first Taken, released in 2009 (although the film actually debuted in 2008), helped reinvigorate the career of Liam Neeson. While Neeson had not fallen by the wayside per say, his action movie prowess could have used a little jumpstart, and that's exactly what Taken provided. The film went on to generate a significant amount of box office revenue, entertaining audiences with Neeson's portrayal of ex-CIA agent Brian Mills, a man on a mission to rescue his kidnapped daughter. However, the concept itself felt like a one-off, a self-contained story that, while a tad unbelievable, was entertaining from beginning to end.
But that didn't stop Luc Besson and co. from churning out Taken 2, a sequel so mind-numbingly infuriating it borders on insult. Neeson is back as Mills, however this time it is Brian and his ex-wife Lenore (Famke Janssen) that are taken. This cues an intricate self-rescue plot by Mills and his daughter Kim - the one that was "taken" in the first film - and a series of illogical action sequences and plot points all wrapped under the guise of "more of what audiences enjoyed from the first film." But that doesn't prove to be true; the connections between the first film are there - Rade Serbedzija plays the father of one of the kidnappers Mills killed and he's out for revenge - but ultimately the set-up and plot lack any tension or intrigue. Mills' goal seems much more achievable this time around, and he's (surprisingly) not faced with nearly as insurmountable odds.
To be blunt, director Olivier Megaton (Colombiana) might have had greater success copycatting the first Taken's formula whole cloth rather than subtly drawing from its inspiration. The film's revenge plot is half-baked, and movement between story beats is only stimulated by the film's need to feature a different action sequence. Neeson once again shines as Mills, but everything else is working against him. His character is forced into sequences that boil down to uninteresting hand-to-hand combat or shootouts that last less than a few seconds. A sub-par, borderline boring action film, Taken 2 might have been passable on some level, but it's when the film starts insulting its audience's intelligence that it really becomes a mess.
Naming each and every inconsistency would require too much time, but one of Taken 2's most egregious involves the fact Mills' daughter Kim has failed her driving test three times. It's a seemingly innocuous plot point, and one you'd figure would help bookend the film, however there's a major action sequence in the middle that involves Kim deftly maneuvering a car. Now, the car doesn't escape the sequence unscathed mind you, but the ways in which this supposed teenager is able to handle a foreign car, and a manual one at that, defies all of the film's previously revealed information. Why even explain that Kim is a bad driver, if within thirty minutes she's going to be in the midst of a pretty involved car chase? It's that lack of foresight that pervades the entire film, and proves the production set out with an idea, but didn't care enough to make it believable. Or maybe they thought that audiences would be too dumb to realize the script's inconsistencies.
Eye rolls, inappropriate laughter, and disapproving head shaking - Taken 2 elicits them all, and frequently. Generally I don't subscribe to the "so bad it's good" theory regarding action films, but this feels like a case where the production decided to pull out all the stops and never look back in the hopes of delivering such a film. Unfortunately, Taken 2 not only is uninteresting, it left me questioning whether the first Taken was really that entertaining, or believable for that matter. That's right; it's a movie so poorly executed and poorly thought out that it retroactively makes you question your enjoyment of its predecessor. And there aren't any throat punches.
Compelling action might have saved Taken 2 - made those numerous plot holes a little more acceptable - but unfortunately the film fails in that regard as well. Like the Bourne franchise, these Taken films try to ground their action in a reality that is still bombastic, but makes sense for a trained individual. There's a fine line between realistic and entertaining, though, and Taken 2 fails to find a nice balance between the two. It's either a really lazy fist or gun fight, or a completely unbelievable car chase, with no middle ground.
Neeson, as mentioned earlier, is great in the movie, but he isn't asked to do much as far as the action is concerned. The first film was more about the brutality of a desperate man, whereas this sequel is a showpiece, a chance to see Mills unleash his skills once again. Unfortunately it's mostly unmotivated, and is pretty dull. Some moviegoers might be entranced by Neeson's turn as Mills because he is such a great character, but they'd be fooled into thinking he's ever in any real danger.
October 5, 2012