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“That’s it! I am never leaving the house again,” barked Annie (Sandra Bullock) in the ill-advised sequel Speed 2: Cruise Control. Well, fifteen years later, some people still haven’t learned their lesson. Despite the misadventures of his daughter Kim (Maggie Grace) in Paris, Bryan (Liam Neeson) and his still-adoring ex-wife Lenore (Famke Janssen), travel to Istanbul in Taken 2, the sequel to the surprise smash about European ass-kicking.
The original Taken was a kind of Frommer’s Guide to Death Wish. The aforementioned “misadventures” puts it lightly. Teenage Kim’s best friend was murdered and she, too, was kidnapped by Albanian sex traffickers until her daddy, a retired CIA operative, hopped an intercontinental flight and tracked down the bad guys. It was a pulp hit that made decent money stateside and massive amounts around the world, so why not make a sequel? The Taken movies are actually the perfect poster film for the current state of the art – er, business – in worldwide filmmaking.
So in order to optimize its translatability, Taken 2 has little need for plot or realism. Just go with its implausibility. Lenore and Kim join Bryan on business (whatever they think that is) in Turkey, where Murad Krasniqi (Rade Sherbedgia) and his band of loyal henchmen wait to kidnap Bryan. It’s punishment, you see, for Bryan’s disposal of Krasniqi’s son at the end of the first Taken. It doesn’t matter that his son was a ruthless defiler and murder of innocent teen women; Karasniqi pursues his prey like the mother killer whale in Orca.
And in short order, Bryan and Lenore are kidnapped and blindfolded. This happens to be the film’s best scene, buttressed by sharp cinematography by Romain Lacourbas and an under-your-skin score from Nathaniel Méchaly. Using his ever-impressive resourcefulness, Bryan is able to reach Kim on her phone at the hotel and begin figuring out how she can get to him (it includes throwing several hand grenades around Istanbul, and never getting caught).
Olivier Megaton directs from a script penned by the team of expert Luc Besson and Robert Mark Kamen. Now, Besson (The Big Blue, La Femme Nikita, The Professional) knows how to construct action films that are both visually interesting and even supply a soupcon of human dignity. Well, the gang seems to have unanimously decided that the Taken movies are mere money gigs. Neeson, who’s touching down on 60, appears to have decided the same thing. An early scene in Los Angeles with his other CIA retiree friends forces him to say “Don’t go there,” which he does with about as much commitment as Taylor Swift’s boyfriends seem to have for her. More harmful to the film is his decision or inability to perform many of Bryan’s stunts, forcing Megaton’s editing team of Camille Delamarre and Vincent Tabaillon to clumsily have to cut around him and his stuntmen.
Taken 2, at least, is taut. The murders and escapes come fast and furious; it’s again amazing to see just how quickly and nonchalantly foreign language-speaking thugs can be dispatched. This sequel lacks the focused intensity of the original, but it’s a bit more ludicrously fun, with Grace somehow convincingly able to play a teenager and carry the film that Neeson more or less shrugs off on her (Janssen doesn’t have a ton to do, but what she does, she does…decently.)
Sit back, and relax. For better or worse, you won’t feel a thing. And hey, it could still be worse. It’s not like the movie is Speed 2.