A film review by Craig J. Koban October 9, 2012

TAKEN 2 jjj
 

2012, PG-13, 91 mins.

Bryan: Liam Neeson / Lenore: Famke Janssen / Kim: Maggie Grace / Krasniqi: Rade Sherbedgia / Bernie: D.B. Sweeney

Directed by Olivier Megaton / Written by Luc Besson and Robert Mark Kamen

How can the same shit happen to the same guy twice?

- Bruce Willis (John McClane) in DIE HARD 2

 

There is absolutely no reason for TAKEN 2 to exist…but...damn it...I’m sort of glad it does. 

To be fair, most sequels primarily exist because their predecessors were surprise box office smashes, and 2009’s TAKEN is no exception.  TAKEN 2  is a sequel that is perfunctory from beginning to end without offering anything really new or revitalizing to the already absurd story presented in the first TAKEN.  There is just no motive for a second TAKEN entry to have been made...other than financial. 

Yet, at the same time, all of those aforesaid points should not be held completely against the film.  TAKEN 2, like the initial entry, is wall-to-wall with tasteless absurdity and it's a bruised knuckled and teeth clenched action thriller that’s very heavy in incredulous, logic-defying plot developments.  However, it's also an agreeably and unapologetically no-nonsense and well-oiled exploitation flick.  It’s an auctioneer as purely mindless junk food for the senses that’s held remarkably together by the atypical casting and perpetually credible performance of Liam Neeson as a divorced (and ridiculously protective) father and ex-CIA operative who is blessed with a “particular set of skills” that make him an unadulterated “nightmare” for those that dare oppose him.  Neeson is now a ripe 60-years-old, but he proves in TAKEN 2 – as he did to rousing success in TAKEN 1 – that he’s capable of playing a sturdy, strong-willed, and relentless figure of vengeance that other actors of his age could not.   

You may recall that in the first TAKEN that Neeson’s Bryan Mills came out of a relatively cozy retirement to head to France to track down and exterminate a squadron of slimy and evil Albanian human traffickers that kidnapped his vacationing daughter to force her to work in an underground sex slavery ring (yup…every daddy’s worst nightmare come true).  Well…wouldn’t you know it…that chief bad guy from the first film had a papa as well, Murad Krasniqi (played with venomous hostility by the good character actor Rade Serbedzija) who now wants his own revenge on Mills by kidnapping him and his daughter, Kim (Maggie Grace) and wife, Lenore (Famke Janssen) so that he can murder them all in the slowest and most painful manner possible.  Through conveniences that only a movie script could provide, Murad has a window of opportunity when Bryan and his family are all on an impromptu vacation in Istanbul while Bryan finishes a brief security job.   

 

 

Unlike TAKEN 1 – during which Kim was the only kidnap victim – Murad’s men actually manage to capture Bryan and Lenore, leaving the breathless, confused, and traumatized Kim fending for herself.  Needless to say, Bryan finds miraculously ingenious – if not a bit hard-to-swallow – means of contacting Kim while in custody and feeds her instructions as to what to do and how to locate where he and his ex-wife are being held.  I think that it goes without saying that Bryan does indeed escape and – without breaking much of a sweat – begins to plot a plan of bloody comeuppance to rid the world once and for all the Albanian scum that have made life for him and his family a living hell for two films.  

Note to all other Albanians: I’m sure most of you are nice, as I am referring primarily to bad human trafficking Albanians in this film series. 

It’s important to check your brain at the proverbial door before seeing TAKEN 2, but the film contains scenes that made it very difficult for me not to shake my head with mocking laughter.   Firstly, Maggie Grace is not really believable as a teenager anymore (she’s in her late twenties in real life), not to mention that her character occupies a subplot involving her failing her driver’s license test numerous times that you know will lead to scenes where she commandeers a getaway vehicle for her and her family and, in turn, is able to zip in and out of heavy Istanbul city traffic with the skill of a Indy 500 driver.  Then there is another scene where she is able to deduce her family’s whereabouts by speaking with her captured father over the phone while using – let me check my notes – a map, a marker, one shoelace, a few grenades, and a stolen car…all while eluding capture from her parent’s kidnappers.  My favorite eye-rolling moment has Neeson crashing a car through the U.S. embassy in Istanbul – and through a barricade of the Army's finest blasting away at him – after which he calls up an old CIA buddy back home in America to “make a phone call for him” and – presto! – he’s astonishingly set free.  Yup.  Uh-huh.  Sure. 

The villains this go-around are, quite frankly, uninspired and bland, not to mention that Rade Serbedzija – despite being a decent actor – is too old to be considered a lethal and frightening presence to play off of Neeson during the inevitable and climatic showdown between Bryan and Murad.  The previous TAKEN entry was directed with a fair amount of precision by Pierre Morel, whom has been replaced now by – fake name alert!!! – Olivier Megaton (who helmed TRANSPORTER 3 and COLUMBIANA) who seems constantly insistent on shooting most of TAKEN 2’s action with camera zipping blurs, chopped-up editorial overkill, and – sigh – shaky-cam histrionics.  How hard is it for modern action directors to keep…the camera…still?  Seriously.

This all sounds like an overwhelmingly negative review thus far, but in actuality I still left TAKEN 2 with a semi-ashamed smile on my face.  Yes, this is a sequel on pure autopilot that basically rehashed – with minor tweaks – the same plot of TAKEN 1.  Yes, this sequel lacks a sense of urgency and surprise that made the first entry enjoyable and exhilarating.  And…yes…this new entry doesn't have a film zeitgeist defining “I will find you…and I will kill you” monologue delivered by Neeson (that appeared famously in the first film) that made action aficionados giddy as schoolgirls.  Buuuuut…TAKEN 2 still remains enjoyable as a silly, sleazy, cheerfully implausible, and well-paced and performed piece of mass marketed product.  Writers Luc Besson and Robert Mark Kamen (who wrote the last TAKEN, the TRANSPORTER films, and FROM PARIS WITH LOVE) have the market utterly cornered on cheaply throwaway, but entertaining Euro-trash action chic.  TAKEN 2 has no other concerns but to showcase Bryan Mills engage in another relentless one-man war using his limitless intellect, resourcefulness, and might versus some truly deplorable Albanians (again…sorry Albania).  Spearheading this whole lurid enterprise is the stoic, commanding, and implacable presence of Neeson, who yet again cheerfully and radically goes against the grain of what we have come to expect in an action hero.   

Plus, he’s perhaps the only actor that can take oddly hysterical lines and deliver them with a plausible solemnity during dire circumstances, like (for instance), “Now, Kim, I want you to go to the balcony with the grenade.  Is there a safe place you can throw the grenade?” 

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