Stepping up to the box office four years after “Taken,” “Taken 2” had the potential to improve upon the foundation laid down by its predecessor. At least it did until Luc Besson and Robert Mark Kamen co-authored what, as film critic Kenneth Turan notes, appears as more of a remake of the 2008 blockbuster than its sequel. Whereas “Taken” reduced the under publicized issue of human trafficking to an excuse for our 60-year-old action hero, Liam Neeson, to tromp, grim-faced, through Paris on a highly-choreographed rampage, the premise for “Taken 2” dismisses the issue altogether. This time around, getting kidnapped is a fun family activity.
In the aftermath of “Taken,” it’s all sunshine and typical dad problems for retired CIA operative Bryan Mills (Neeson), as his teenage daughter Kim (Maggie Grace) reluctantly practices for a third shot at obtaining her driver’s license and—surprise!—gets herself a boyfriend. Famke Janssen reprises her role as Bryan’s ex-wife Lenore, whose second husband is conveniently pushed out of the picture in this sequel due to unspecified marriage disputes. Bryan flies out to Istanbul for a three-day job doing security detail, at the end of which he receives a second, more welcome surprise when both Kim and Lenore show up at the hotel for a surprise family vacation. Take a moment to remember that only a year ago, Kim was abducted by sex traffickers, drugged out of her senses and auctioned off to a sheikh before being rescued by her father. And let’s not forget the tragic loss of her friend (Katie Cassidy) she was taken with, who, as far as I could tell, no one shed a tear over. That must have been some stellar post-traumatic therapy.
It almost comes as a relief when Besson and Kamen dredge up the embarrassingly clichéd Albanian gangsters in the form of one Murad Hoxha (Rade Šerbedžija), father of one of the traffickers killed in “Taken,” and his army of underlings who are keen on making Bryan pay for the deaths of their fallen kin. Bryan and his “very particular set of skills” have apparently gone rusty, because he and Lenore are captured by Hoxha’s thugs. Luckily for Bryan, his abductors have an especially limited skill set, as they neglect to discover the tiny cell phone concealed in his jeans, which he uses to contact Kim with instructions. Another thing these new thugs aren’t very good at is understanding orders, because they take the words “Remember…alive,” and “I want all three of them,” and translate them into, “Shoot at random and keep shooting until everything is dead.” They fail at this, too, which they only seem to realize once they’ve been shot, stabbed, snapped or strangled by the man they’re trying to kill.
The script is hard-set on following the formula from the first “Taken” movie, right down to the hackneyed quips made by Neeson’s character and the inability to portray women as anything other than would-be victims. Besson and Kamen do give Kim a larger role in the sequel, which mostly involves her waiting around for direction and being generally frantic and teary-eyed. To her credit, Grace does her best to fill out a character that takes no initiative of her own, and Janssen—who has proven herself to be capable of action in the “X-Men” franchise—is given even less to work with, as she is unconscious or trussed up for most of the film. However, the actors’ performances are rendered wooden by their lack of chemistry and obvious indifference for the sequel.
To top it all off is director Olivier Megaton’s contribution to the franchise, which includes taking a metaphoric axe to the action sequences in a series of choppy edits that offers the audiences nice close-ups of faces scowling, things breaking and not much else.
What “Taken 2” lacks is the urgency that drove the first movie to popularity. Hoxha vows to spill Bryan Mills’ blood on the grave of his son, but all that’s being bled in theaters are the wallets of moviegoers willing to shell it out for 91 minutes of “Taken” all over again.