An Exercise In Check-Cashing

The relationship between “Taken 2” and its predecessor is best explained by paraphrasing Jeff Daniels in a recent iPhone 5 commercial – “it’s more… and it’s less.” In fact, Apple may have inadvertently summed up all that’s wrong with the majority of sequels, cinematic or otherwise. “Taken 2” provides more of what the filmmakers assumed we liked about the first film, in turn making it a snoozer barely worthy of a rainy Saturday afternoon. Liam Neeson exudes little of the charm we’ve come to expect from him and the elements of mystery and suspense are all but stripped from the framework of the story. In an attempt to avoid literally repeating the first film, the filmmakers repeat it in a much more tedious way. Amazingly, a straight up remake (a la Neeson’s daughter being kidnapped again) would have been preferable.

Neeson returns as Bryan Mills, a retired CIA operative turned family man with a violent past that occasionally bubbles to the surface. It’s been a year since he rescued his now 18 year-old daughter, Kim (Maggie Grace), from Albanian sex traffickers in France. His ex-wife (and Kim’s mom), Lenore (Famke Janssen), is newly single and we see glimpses of the three reconnecting as a family unit. This is all predictable stuff, but the first act is agreeable enough to forgive its shortcomings and await the incoming action scenes. Character actor Rade Serbedzija (“Mission: Impossible II,” “Batman Begins”) is introduced as the father of six Albanians that Mills killed in the first film, and he’s thirsty for revenge.

The beauty of “Taken” was that the film could be summed up in one line (and was on the film’s theatrical poster). It was an unremarkable but highly watchable meat and potatoes action film and audiences responded to its simplicity. Here, writer Luc Besson and director Olivier Megaton (new to the series) simultaneously complicate things and dumb them down. Not only does our hero inexplicably go back overseas for a job, he invites Kim and her mom to join him for reasons unknown. Is he trying to get back together with his ex? Does he simply feel sorry for her? Why would he, let alone his family, ever leave the US again? This time around, Bryan and Lenore are kidnapped and Kim (who was previously revealed as not having her driver’s license) is turned into an action star for the majority of the second act. The resulting car chase is stupid, yes. But even worse, it’s boring.

Besson still has a couple of amusing spy thriller tricks up his sleeve, though. A few implausible but entertaining narrative strands involve Mill’s highly evolved tracking system – this time, used to locate himself. Also, Megaton (it’s even sillier to say than it is to type) doesn’t completely embarrass himself. The sequel looks better than the first film, abiding by the “more is more” rule, and some editing issues aside (the action isn’t nearly as coherent) the visual style is adequate for the material. Grace and Janssen are actually better here, too. The dialogue isn’t as corny and their characters are given considerably more to do. However, it remains distracting that Grace is forced to play a decade younger than she actually is. Awkward, really.

Ultimately, the blame for this misfire lies squarely at the feet of Besson and Neeson. The story is infinitely more convoluted and markedly less interesting, while Neeson looks sleepy and dispassionate. Since Neeson is the film – the entire reason that “Taken” has become a franchise – it’s problematic that he’s so disengaged (the actor from the film and the character from the story). Part 2 is a film that begins with feelings of “this isn’t bad,” eventually giving way to the realization that “this isn’t good.” It’s not a disaster, but it’s not likely to leave much of an impression on anyone, which makes it even more disappointing since Besson and company were playing with house money. A sequel to a surprise but modest hit has no right to be this lackluster.

-J. Olson

Rating: ★★ 1/2 out of ★★★★★ (Mediocre)

Release Date: October 5, 2012
Studio: 20th Century Fox
Director: Olivier Megaton
Screenwriter: Luc Besson, Robert Mark Kamen
Starring: Liam Neeson, Maggie Grace, Famke Janssen, Rade Sherbedgia, Luke Grimes
MPAA Rating: PG-13 (for intense sequences of violence and action, and some sensuality)