Film review: Taken 2

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Liam Neeson employs his very special set of tough guy acting skills in Taken 2. Liam Neeson employs his very special set of tough guy acting skills in Taken 2.

Just how bad is Taken 2? Bad enough to make a re-examination of Taken seem in order. Sure, Taken has its moments of near parody, including (but not limited to) Liam Neeson’s “very special set of skills” speech; the nameless bad guys who are so plentiful that they exist only to be killed; the clueless American daughter played by Maggie Grace; and the typically creepy Luc Besson-written fetishization of young women.

Somehow, though, Taken rises above its inherent nonsense and delivers solid thrills with near endless action. Taken 2 is a miracle. It falls on its face at every turn with nearly the same plot, action and special set of skills that works in the first film. Maybe that’s because Taken 2 exists for one reason: It’s the quintessential pure money sequel. No one expected Taken to be a hit. Neeson told Jimmy Fallon earlier in 2012 that he thought it would “go straight to video,” so naturally its gargantuan success lined some pockets and demanded a continuation.

So all those nameless—and by the time Neeson was done with them, nearly faceless—guys actually had names and families. Taken 2 opens at the funeral for, no joke, about a dozen of them, and Rade Serbedzija, father to one of the poor bastards, announces they’ll find Neeson’s Bryan Mills and his family, and they’ll torture and kill all of them. That’s right. The guys who were so expendable in Taken were actually not so expendable. To someone, anyway. And Serbedzija, the low-rent stand-in for this kind of part, does his best with the little he’s given to do, which is to growl and make threats.

And that’s basically the story, surprise-free and patently absurd. For example, there are no consequences to any of Neeson’s actions (except that shooting results in killing). Murder a Turkish cop? No problem. Drive through the American embassy in Istanbul? Don’t sweat it. A quick call to Sam (Leland Orser, Neeson’s friend and employer in Taken) will cover that.

This movie doesn’t even play by the rules it sets up. We’ve established that Serbedzija wants Neeson to pay for killing his son and a bunch of other guys. So when Neeson is cornered, he takes a nameless, gun-toting thug hostage and threatens to kill the guy. One of the other nameless gun-toting thugs then shoots and kills his compatriot in order to show Neeson they all mean business. So for the record, it’s O.K. that these guys end up dead if it’s done to prove a point. Fail. One surprise: Maggie Grace’s character is given a chance to not be a halfwit and succeeds. Besson and co-writer Robert Mark Kamen compensate by reducing Famke Janssen, a typically tough movie presence, to the damsel in distress. This woman played Jean Grey in X-Men. Now she’s yelping for her life.

There will be action fans out there who like Taken 2 for the action, and perhaps they’ll be satisfied. They’ll also be pleased that Serbedzija says he has two more sons, and Neeson says he’ll kill them, too.

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Taken 2/PG-13, 92 minutes/Regal Seminole Square 4

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