In “Taken,” retired CIA agent Bryan Mills (Liam Neeson) rescued his seventeen-year old daughter Kim (Maggie Grace) from the nasty white-slavers who’d abducted her while she was on a European vacation, wiping out a small army of them (as well as a wide swath of Paris) in the process. Now the daddy of one of the kidnappers, an Albanian warlord named Murad Krasniqi (Rade Sherbedgia), has decided to take vengeance on Mills, Kim and his ex-wife Lenore (Famke Janssen).
That’s pretty much all there is to “Taken 2,” again written by producer Luc Besson and Robert Mark Kamen. The movie is a simple revenge tale mostly consisting of fistfights, gun battles and car chases through the unfortunate streets, cellars and rooftops of Istanbul, where Mills has just finished a bodyguard job and Kim and Lenore come to join him for a vacation. Mills cleverly keeps Kim safe from capture, and she in turn aids him in escaping from the baddies who’ve captured him and rescuing Lenore from Murad’s evil clutches. In the process the city—and its squadron of cute little police cars— suffer enormously from pitched outdoor melees and crash-and-burn episodes as the vehicles peel through the narrow streets and mash into each other.
As directed by Olivier Mageton (taking over for Pierre Morel), the action is pretty unrelenting, and though it’s strangely unexciting despite its ferocity (aided by the whiplash editing of Camille Delamarre and Vincent Tabailton), you’ll probably be glad of that, because in the conversational interludes the picture pretty much turns into an unintentional comedy. The opening reel, set in Los Angeles, in which Mills frets over his daughter’s failure to pass her driver’s test and her involvement with a—gasp!—first boyfriend (Luke Grimes), plays like a tepid TV sitcom, and the material dealing with Lenore, whose husband has just walked (or driven) out on her, is so banal it doesn’t even reach the level of good soap opera. It’s as though Besson and Kamen are simply unaware of how real human beings speak.
At least Grace gets a chance to redeem herself in the Istanbul fracas, turning into a mini-action heroine as she helps her dad escape the bad guys in a sequence—involving a map, a shoelace, a magic marker and a few grenades—that’s totally absurd but at least gives her the opportunity to show her mettle (as does the car chase where she shows her grit, license or no). The same, unfortunately, can’t be said for Janssen, who’s humiliated in a part that requires her to be nothing but a passive damsel in distress, required simply to wait for rescue while literally being trussed up, hung up in chains and reduced to whimpering while being threatened with surgical implements.
As for Neeson, he continues his slide from real actor to the image of a stone-faced hero whose abilities, to use the old phrase, are far beyond those of mortal men. Mills can, though blindfolded, memorize every detail of a laborious route through unfamiliar streets (including, ludicrously, the playing of a street musician who apparently never moves from his spot on the stoop and or stops strumming his instrument), and defeat a small army of burly thugs by himself in hand-to-hand combat (or dispose of a bunch of them with a machine gun, never taking a bullet in return). The absurdity of it all is palpable, but Neeson gets through it with a very straight face—a feat that in its own way matches Mills’s.
Given the simplicity of the good-bad equation in “Taken 2,” one has to wonder why the Turkish government was willing to assist in its production. True, as shot by Roman Lacourbas, the locations are gorgeous. But since the city’s police force is portrayed as being riddled with corruption and incompetence, it rather cancels out the attractive visuals. As it wasn’t an area used for filming, Albania apparently has no choice but to swallow the depiction of its people as nothing more than bloodthirsty brutes.
The breathless action of “Taken 2” may satisfy viewers who made the original an unexpected hit. But it’s an empty, exhausting exercise, a pumped-up adrenaline rush that despite all the running around, goes nowhere.