It’s still a little hard to believe that the man who played Oscar Schindler has evolved into a bonafide action movie star. Such is the case with 60-year old Liam Neeson. Neeson’s 2008 action thriller “Taken” was a surprise hit that moved his career in a new direction. And while I enjoyed “Taken” and it was a huge success, it wasn’t a movie that I expected to have a sequel. Yet writer Luc Besson returns with a new story (well, kinda) and with Neeson, Famke Janssen, and Maggie Grace back onboard. Now when watching “Taken 2” you’ll undoubtedly question why it was made (other than the obvious cash in) and it will strike you as very similar to the first movie. But while critics have shelled it, overall I didn’t have the sharp negative reaction to the film that many have had. Still “Taken 2” is a movie that doesn’t do a lot to stand out and ultimately it’s a standard “watch it once and you’re done” kind of film.
This movie is pretty much a direct sequel to the first film. It’s been a year since Neeson’s Bryan Mills killed those evil Albanian mobsters who kidnapped his daughter. Now the head of the mob and father of one of those killed is out for revenge. He puts together a plan to kidnap Bryan, his ex-wife Lenore (Janssen), and daughter Kim (Grace) who are spending time together in Istanbul. After Lenore is taken and with Kim running for her life, it’s up Bryan to kill a bunch more evil Albanians in order to save his family. Luckily he still has that “particular set of skills”, right?
There’s nothing unwatchable about “Taken 2” and it does try to make itself an extension of the first film instead of a rehash. It begins by showing the lives of Bryan and his family since the events of “Taken”. These scenes are fine and I didn’t mind being reacquainted with these characters. But quite honestly they are irrelevant and do nothing to drive the narrative forward. Things do pick up when Bryan goes to Istanbul on some unspecified business. Both his family and the Albanian mob pay him surprise visits which sends the movie careening from action sequence to action sequence. That wouldn’t be a bad thing if “Taken 2” could shake the burdens of predictability and familiarity. It also embraces some pretty conventional action movie techniques that I couldn’t help but shake my head at. But there’s still a degree of fun to the movie and even though it’s not one that will stick with you, it always kept my attention.
But let me say a little bit more about the action. These are some of the most poorly edited action sequences I have ever seen. The fight scenes are made up of rapid-fire quick cuts that make it impossible to know what’s going on. The movie keeps the action toned down enough to get a PG-13 rating but in several instances it hurts the film. There’s almost no edge to the action and even some of the bigger payback scenes at the end are unsatisfying because of this. One more thing, “Taken 2’s” bad guys are some of the dopiest in movie history. Tell me if this sounds like a good idea: You capture your prime target and one of the most deadliest men in the world and you leave him tied up and unattended in a room while you go down the hall to eat and watch soccer on TV. Seriously?
No matter how much I wanted to love “Taken 2” I just can’t. It never had me checking my watch and at a compact 90 minutes it never overstays its welcome. But there are so many flaws with this movie. Sure I love a snarling Liam Neeson and I love watching him bust the heads of bad guys. Unfortunately this movie just gives us more of the same but at a much lower and lazier production level. Even Liam can’t fully overcome that.